photo courtesy of istockphoto / thinkstock
As July comes to a close, school teachers and administrators will report to school in early August to begin planning for the next school year. August PTA planning meetings and meet-your-teacher open house events are a perfect time for you to get involved with your child’s school as a health advocate.
You might have seen the first season of television show Food Revolution where chef and health advocate Jamie Oliver tried to convince a West Virginia school system to serve healthier, whole foods in the cafeteria. The process was extremely challenging and sometimes agonizing for Jamie.
In the end, the school system accepted the nutrition education he provided and promised they would assess their budget to see if healthier foods could be introduced. Progress had been made, but there was still a long way to go.
The quality of school cafeteria food as well as the overall nutritional health of our children should be a major concern for every parent or grandparent. We need more people like Jamie Oliver. While persuading a school system to change its cafeteria food is obviously a challenge, there are other ways you can help increase the amount of nutritional foods in your child’s school, starting with your child’s teacher, coach, and the Parent-Teacher Association. Here are a few areas to consider.
Ask teachers and coaches to avoid rewarding kids with food parties and sweet snacks. Rewarding achievements with junk food has become far too common. Pizza parties, ice cream socials and candy rewards are the norm in many schools. For example, children are awarded a free pizza for reaching a reading goal each month. If a child is nominated ‘Student of the Week,’ they receive a free ice cream. For good behavior, children are allowed to pick candy from a ‘treasure box.’ The list of junk food rewards continues to grow longer and more creative. Encourage teachers to replace junk food with fun or other activities and prizes kids enjoy like:
- 15 minutes of extra recess
- Craft parties
- Field trips
- Nature hunts
- Volunteer work
Encourage the PTA to get rid of junk food-centered fundraisers. Most schools hold at least one fundraiser every year, while many schools hold several fundraisers. Sports teams sell candy bars. The PTA holds bake sells every Friday. Students are encouraged to bring in “pop tops” from soda cans to support charity. The class that brings in the most pop tops gets a pizza party. Another popular fundraiser is selling coupon books. Have you noticed most of the coupons are for fast food restaurants?
Organize a school garden project. Get parents to volunteer to plant and maintain a fruit and vegetable garden for the school. Older students can also participate. The crops are then used in the cafeteria as part of the school lunch. Kids will enjoy eating food they grew themselves.
Keep sharing ideas like these with other parents, principals, teachers, coaches and PTA leaders. Change may start slow, but small victories will add up over time.
To kick off the school year with a focus on health, invite other parents and school leaders to attend an a Maximized Living event.