I’m a mom on a mission to bring fresh nutritious foods and food literacy to my kid’s elementary school in central Idaho.
We’re fortunate to have an outstanding school filled with passionate and dedicated teachers. And we live in a community of very active and health conscious people. In fact, our county was recently ranked the healthiest in Idaho. Sure, some residents are battling the bulge, but the obesity rate is far lower than what you see in other places.
With that said, I do wish that the edibles at our school could be just a wee bit healthier.
Ok, I’ll confess: I can’t help but cringe at all the cupcakes, candy, ice cream, hot dogs, soda and other not-so-nourishing foods being served up in the classrooms, at bake sales and fundraisers, and at school events. I wince when I hear about teachers rewarding kids with candy and see ice cream and pizza parties being used as incentives. A few times a week, I feel like I see a big box of cupcakes or donuts being carried into the school.
It isn’t like nobody cares. I’ve heard a lot of parents, teachers and even our school principal express concern over what students are putting in their mouths. In its Student Wellness Policy, our local school district says it’s committed to encouraging healthy eating, citing goals such as:
- Minimizing food as rewards, for celebrations, and for fundraising
- Minimizing food with minimal nutritional value on school campuses…and encouraging healthy choices
But it just isn’t happening! As in many school districts, our wellness policy is not being implemented or promoted. Most teachers and parents didn’t even seem to even know it exists.
To its credit, my son’s elementary school has made some positive changes in recent years, including stopping the sale of cookies and brownies at morning recess; banning vending machines in student access areas; and restricting bake sales to once a month or less. But there’s a whole lot more work that needs to be done.
During the early school years, children spend a lot of time learning basics like reading and math—fundamental skills necessary for a productive life (not to mention good test scores!). But alas, nutrition is one area that often gets overlooked.
That’s why I’m also pushing for nutrition education in the classroom (and the lunchroom!). Living in a junk-food world, kids need all the help that they can get learning how to stay healthy. And there are many fun and effective ways to teach them how to eat that don’t involve boring lectures about fat grams and food additives—like using fruit and veggies to learn shapes and colors, counting blueberries, or planting a school garden.
It isn’t that I think kids can’t eat junk food. But the fact is, most of them already get a ton of it outside of school. Every day, they are bombarded with sugary, salty processed food—at after-school activities, sports practices, birthday parties—basically, everywhere you go! By dinnertime, they often have had more than their fill of chips, soda, candy, donuts, soda, sports drinks and other empty calories. When they send their kids to school, parents should be able to expect them to be well fed and not loaded up with junk.
By improving school nutrition, we’ll make things easier for parents, who need all the help that they can get trying to raise a healthy family. We’ll make things easier for teachers, who will have students that are better able to focus and learn. And most important, we’ll be doing a big favor to our kids, who need wholesome food to grow and thrive.
Fear not, I don’t plan on just sitting here and complaining. To fight back, I helped start a Wellness Committee. I’m helping with the school’s new healthy newsletter and creating healthy classroom party ideas to distribute to other parents. I’ve teamed up with another mom to organize a school-wide Rainbow Day to celebrate eating from the rainbow. And I’m hoping to help the school district update (and strengthen) its wellness policy. I still have plenty of frustrating moments, but I think I am starting to see a small shift in the right direction.
Fighting for healthier school food isn’t always easy. But it’s a battle worth fighting! Schools have a unique opportunity to positively influence kids’ eating habits. We owe it to our kids to teach them how to eat to stay healthy. Parents can be powerful advocates, so I hope you will join me on this journey.