School Wellness: 3 Ways To Get Involved This Year

by Sally on August 18, 2014

In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small by Real Mom Nutrition

School is starting in the next few weeks. Are there are changes you’d like to see in your child’s school, like less sugar in the classroom or more events that get kids moving? If so, make this the year you get involved! Here are three ways to jump in:

1. Attend PTA meetings. It’s the very best way to know what’s going on and have a voice in school functions. Consider these next steps:

  • Suggest an alternative to the typical junk food fundraisers. Check out this guide to healthy (and profitable) fundraisers from Center for Science in the Public Interest.
  • Read this guide for parents from Corporate Accountability International if there’s fast food marketing in your child’s school and you’d like to change that.
  • Work with other like-minded parents to brainstorm solutions to what bothers you. Teachers and administrators hear plenty of griping, but concrete ideas (and offers to help) are much more effective. I started this simple Fruit Ninjas program after seeing how much fruit was going uneaten at breakfast.

2. Join the school’s wellness committee (or start one). You can create wellness programs and even help shape policies concerning food and physical activity. Consider these next steps:

3. Foster good communication with your child’s teacher. Ask (politely!) about how food is used, if at all, in the classroom. Consider these next steps:

  • Get facts about food in the classroom from The Lunch Tray’s Food In the Classroom Manifesto, plus ways educators can help get junk food out of schools with these ideas from Spoonfed.
  • Ask about celebrating birthdays without food–or go the non-food route for your own child and see if it catches on. Read my post 10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate School Birthdays for creative ideas that kids and parents will love.
  • Arm yourself with the facts on candy rewards in the classroom. This White Paper from Casey Hinds of USHealthy Kids is a terrific summary of the current research and includes food-free strategies for classroom management.
  • Find out how to work with teachers to create a healthier classroom. School Bites created this Healthy Classrooms Initiative that includes resources and ideas you can use in your own school.

Good luck, have fun, and be part of the change!

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Alli August 18, 2014 at 1:04 pm

Thanks for the resources and the pep talk. I sure needed it. Sharing this PRONTO.

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Emily August 18, 2014 at 10:00 pm

Thanks for the tips, Sally! My daughter is starting Kindergarten, and I joined the wellness committee at her school. I’ll be sure to use your resources :-)

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LeAnne Ruzzamenti August 19, 2014 at 10:36 am

Sally – these are great. I know as a parent it sometimes feels burdensome to place one more thing on our overstretched teachers so the approach to empower parents to jump in and take responsibility is perfect. A parent can often inspire a teacher to rethink her perspective and bring even more parents into the fold – to perhaps adopt a non-food birthday celebration policy for the whole class.

Through my work at Dairy Council of CA we encourage teachers to include nutrition in the classroom and establish healthy classroom policies – here are some other ideas that build a strong partnership between parents and teachers around health and nutrition. http://www.healthyeating.org/Schools/Tips-Trends/Healthy-Classroom-Tips/Article-Viewer/Article/1821/Tip-1-Make-a-Family-Connection.aspx

Keep up the good work!

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Sarah walker August 25, 2014 at 8:12 am

I need help! My first grader just told me that his teacher gives them a single gummy bear every day as a reading reward. I didn’t have to deal with this in kindergarten, so this will be my first junk food/teacher interaction. I know she probably thinks that one little gummy bear a day isn’t a big deal, but when you think about how many days kids go to school, that is a lot of candy over a year. Especially when I am trying to teach my kid that candy is not an everyday food. How do approach the subject with her? Do I talk to the principal about not using food rewards in any classroom? I am so nervous about starting the conversation! Thanks in advance for any advice!

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Sally August 25, 2014 at 8:23 am

Hi Sarah–I understand your concern. True, it’s one single gummy bear but the candy/food rewards in the classroom are a slippery slope and actually not very effective in the long run. I’d recommend reading Casey’s white paper on food rewards (under #3) to familiarize yourself with what the research says and the health organizations (including the American Academy of Pediatrics) that oppose it. I would start with a very friendly conversation with your teacher vs. going to the principal–tell her that you have some concerns about the candy rewards in the classroom. Bring some suggestions too; for instance, ask if it’s possible to switch to stickers (and offer to take up a collection among parents of stickers to donate). Gauge how receptive she is. If she’s not receptive at all, then I would speak with the principal about your concerns. If there is a school wellness/health committee, you could also approach them–if the school district has a wellness policy, it may include language about food rewards. If it doesn’t, perhaps it should!

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Sarah Walker August 25, 2014 at 8:31 am

Thanks Sally! Another question, to talk with the teacher, do you think I need to talk to her in person, or would an email be ok? I don’t typically see his teacher on a daily basis, and I guess I would have to schedule some time with her. So basically, an email would be easier, especially for shy me, but I’m guessing in person would probably be better. I guess I probably answered my own question, lol. Thanks for all that you do!

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Sarah Walker August 25, 2014 at 9:00 am

Also, I just looked up the district wellness policy, and it states that the school should ‘limit the use of food or beverages, of minimal nutritional value, as rewards for academic performance or good behavior”. So it seems that a daily gummy bear is not in line with this policy!

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Sally August 25, 2014 at 9:05 am

There you go!

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Sally August 25, 2014 at 9:05 am

Sarah–I think if you are feeling shy about it and would rather email, that’s perfectly okay. Then if the conversation needs to continue, you can meet with her in person. We know teachers are busy so she might appreciate hearing your concerns via email first. I have emailed my children’s teacher and principal about things like candy valentines and it’s been fine. Just be sure to be polite obviously–and it’s always nice to emphasize that you know the teacher has the students’ best interests in mind and wants them to succeed. It’s always nice to hear positive things in addition to concerns. :)

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Sarah Walker August 25, 2014 at 9:14 am

Thanks for your advice! When ever I get the email sent and replied to (after numerous drafts, I’m sure), I’ll be sure to let you know how it goes! We have an open house at school tomorrow, so I’m going to see if there is a PTO wellness committee. Thanks again for all your help! I have been following you for a couple years, and I’m so glad to know that I have a great resource like you to help!

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