school wellness

FoodDay2014_poster_11x17_new2small-page-001You’re already doing a lot to make healthy eating happen at home. But you might feel helpless when it comes to your kids’ school. Children spend 35-plus-hours at school every week, eating up to two meals (and maybe even a snack) there. That makes it a natural setting for learning about and experiencing food. Good food. The kind that doesn’t come in a plastic wrapper. Here are 12 ways you can take action in your child’s school to make that happen:

1. Volunteer to bring a fruit tray or fruit salad to the next class party or school event. The simple “fruit rainbow” I brought to my son’s preschool class was a huge hit and was quickly gobbled up.

RainbowFruit

2. Join a PTA committee that plans events and fundraisers and lobby for healthier options. For example, could a cookie dough fundraiser be swapped for a Florida citrus sale? Could the PTA adopt a “water only” drink policy for all school events? Could students get slices of watermelon instead of snow cones on the last day of school?

3. Ask your child’s teacher about taking a field trip to tour a local farm, farmer’s market, or natural foods market. Some farms and markets have special programming just for schools–and your children’s teachers may have health-related topics they need to cover as part of their curriculum (that’s a win-win!). Last year, my son’s kindergarten teachers arranged a class visit to a farm to learn about maple sugaring, then they all returned in the spring to see how bees make honey.

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4. Celebrate your child’s birthday by donating a book to the classroom that teaches a lesson about food (two of my favorites are Yoko and Bread & Jam for Frances). Babble.com has a list of 10 books for a Healthy Food Attitude.

5. See if your child’s teacher would be open to having a farmer or chef visit the classroom and talk about how food is grown or prepared.

6. Get to know your school’s foodservice team. Thank them for their work. Ask questions. Find out how decisions are made. Be polite and gracious.

7. Volunteer to talk to your child’s class about food and nutrition. Super Healthy Kids has simple lesson plans for all grade levels.

8. Join your school’s wellness committee (or start one) and work on programming that gets students excited about healthy habits (read: “School Wellness Programs That Rock“).

9. Find out if your child’s school takes part in Farm to School, a national movement to source more foods locally and to provide educational activities to students that emphasize food, farming, and nutrition. The USDA provides a toolkit to “grow your own” program.

DSC_112810. If the school allows outside food, organize parents to do tastings. Have kids sample different kinds of apples and make a bar graph of the class favorites. Bring your blender and whip up green smoothies with spinach and fruit. Let kids mash avocadoes into guacamole they scoop up with chips. Get advice from School Bites in this post, Tips for Starting a Preschool Cooking Class.

11. Does your child get a snack every day in class or at a school after-care program? If you’re not happy with the quality of the snack, talk to the teacher or staff about possibilities. Here’s a huge list of snack ideas from CSPI.

12. If your school has a garden, pitch in to help. If they don’t, could they start with a raised bed or containers? Whole Foods’ Whole Kids Foundation has lots of resources for making a case for a school garden, designing a garden, recruiting volunteers, and developing activities around it.

I wrote this post as part of a coordinated blogging event for Food Day. Held every October 24th, Food Day is designed to inspire Americans to change their diets for the better and to improve food policies. Created by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI), it’s a day to resolve to make changes to your own diet and to take action to solve food-related problems in our communities at the local, state, and national level.

Visit the following blogs written by other authors participating in Food Day’s first-ever Coordinated Blogging Event:

Food Day

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I Wish Red Delicious Apples Would Just Go Away

by Sally on September 12, 2014

I Am Sick of Red Delicious Apples by Real Mom Nutrition

I am sick of Red Delicious apples. Specifically, I am sick of Red Delicious apples being passed off as actual apples when really, they’re just very attractive props.

Red Delicious apples, with their chewy skin and mealy flesh, are the most common apple in America, grown and sold more than any other variety. Thanks to years of breeding, the skin is redder and thicker than ever. They’re able to be picked before they’re ripe and resist bruising while they travel across the country…to people who don’t want to eat them.

In a new piece in the Atlantic, “The Awful Reign of the Red Delicious“, Sarah Yager describes the “paradox of the Red Delicious” as this:

“Alluring yet undesirable, the most produced and arguably the least popular apple in the United States. It lurks in desolation. Bumped around the bottom of lunch bags as schoolchildren rummage for chips or shrink-wrapped Rice Krispies treats. Waiting by the last bruised banana in a roadside gas station, the only produce for miles. Left untouched on hospital trays, forlorn in the fruit bowl at hotel breakfast buffets, bereft in nests of gift-basket raffia.”

Don’t get me wrong: Red Delicious apples look terrific in a bowl at a health fair. They’re the perfect vehicle for evil queens to poison unsuspecting storybook characters. But there is nothing “delicious” about them.

I Wish Red Delicious Apples Would Just Go Away

Yet those beautiful, bland things are served almost every day at my children’s school, where many of them get tossed in the garbage by the kids. Even when we cut them into easy-to-eat slices as part of the Fruit Ninjas program, most students take a few nibbles and push them aside. Who could blame them? “They’re green inside,” my six year old told me one day with horror. He’d never met a piece of fruit he didn’t like until he tried a Red Delicious at school.

I’m sure Red Delicious are the most economical choice for our school district to buy. I get it. But what a shame that there are apple orchards mere miles away where varieties like Melrose, Gala, and Honeycrisp are grown to perfection. Apples that would make kids swoon! And to think that some children may only know “apples” as “those tasteless round things I get in the cafeteria”.

Thankfully, there are signs that the vile Red Delicious may be on its way out. Production has dropped 40 percent, as more consumers demand Galas, Granny Smiths, and Fujis. I can only hope that trickles down to the lunch tray. Because how can we expect children to develop a taste for healthy foods if we don’t give them healthy food that actually tastes good?

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5 Grab-n-Go Healthy School Snacks

August 22, 2014

Does your child take a snack to school? Many do, to eat in their classroom or between school and sports practices. Sure, it’s easy to wash a piece of fruit–and ideally, it’s good to avoid waste with reusable food containers. But boy, it’s awfully nice to have packaged options on hand for mornings so nutty, you’re lucky if the […]

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School Wellness: 3 Ways To Get Involved This Year

August 18, 2014

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 […]

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No Child Should Go Hungry This Summer: Here’s How To Help!

May 26, 2014

Throughout the school year, 21 million children depend on free or reduced-price school lunch for reliable nutrition. But, what happens to those kids when they go on summer break? The USDA’s Summer Food Service Program provides free lunch (and sometimes breakfast) to children at 42,000 sites across the country during the summer months. This federally […]

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A Healthy Treat For Teacher Appreciation Week

May 20, 2014

Looking for a way to make a teacher’s day? Look what the parents at my children’s school did for Teacher Appreciation Week: They filled a bowl with fresh fruit, attached these adorable notes, and set it out for the staff. The bowl will be refilled all week long. It goes without saying, but teachers rock–and […]

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All About Snacktivism: My Interview in StayBasic Magazine

February 23, 2014

A few years ago, I got fed up with the Kool-Aid and cupcakes my son was getting after soccer games and vowed to make a change. I began talking to coaches and parents about providing fruit for post-game snacks instead–or even nixing snacks altogether (read: “What If Soccer Snacks Just Went Away?“). One day, a […]

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In Praise of Food Activism, Big & Small

February 18, 2014

Have you noticed that regular people are doing some very big stuff? Vani Hari (aka Food Babe) gets the attention of major food companies by exposing some of the questionable ingredients in their products–and demanding they do better. In response to her widely-circulated blog posts, Chik-fil-A is removing artificial dyes from its sauces and dressings […]

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A Call for Candy-Free Valentines

February 4, 2014

Remember Valentine’s Day as a kid? If your school was anything like mine, you found an old shoebox, cut a slot in the top, and decorated it with paper doilies and puffy heart stickers. You stationed it on your desk at school and made the rounds in the classroom, giggling and dropping valentines in your […]

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10 Food-Free Ways to Celebrate School Birthdays

October 28, 2013

I love cupcakes as much as the next person. I have sweet memories of the birthday cupcakes my mom made for me when I was a child (read “For the Love of Cupcakes“), and I’m sure that some years, she brought those cupcakes to school. But for better or worse, cupcakes at school are on […]

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