|What’s for lunch? How to promote the healthy changes to your school’s lunch menuWhile pizza and French fries are still frequently found on school lunch menus and in campus eateries, menu offerings are changing. From sugar-free schools zones to vegan entrees, the days of canned peaches in syrup are waning at every level of our educational system.|
Why? A number of reasons:
- Childhood obesity is at an all-time high. Data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys (1976–1980 and 2003–2006) shows that the prevalence of obesity has increased: For children aged 2–5 years, prevalence increased from 5 to 12.4 percent; for those aged 6–11 years, prevalence increased from 6.5 to 17 percent; and for those aged 12–19 years, prevalence increased from 5 to 17.6 percent.
- Sustainability efforts have increased support for locally grown produce.
- Ethnic cuisine and student diversity have cultivated new tastes and trends.
- Allergies and food sensitivities have demanded alternatives, such as peanut-free, kosher or vegetarian meals.
Add to that the fact that national child nutrition programs, including school lunch and breakfast, are due for reauthorization by Congress in 2009, and you have a recipe for change. How dramatic that change is up to you. Whether you simply elect to minimize soda offerings or go completely sugar-free school-wide, you’ll first want to communicate and receive input from students, parents, staff and taxpayers.
It’s always best to find a champion
No matter their age, students have learned that eating healthy means living better – even if they don’t personally put it into practice. By enlisting a club or a few influential students and/or staff to help lead the charge, student buy-in will come easier. And, if the students are happy, parents will likely be as well. Provide the healthy food ambassadors with resources to spread the word and get others on board. For older students, give them Counting Carbs Pocket Books to hand out or Aladdin Chill & Go’s that carry fresh salads to get other students excited about healthy eating. For younger students, provide stickers or temporary tattoos that feature vegetables, fruits and grains they can wear and share.
Build awareness and increase education
As your school’s menu options change, ensuring that your constituents understand the nutritional value and health benefits will be valuable to preventing push-back. Provide incoming or potential college freshmen with Black Spooner Mugs that feature the school’s logo and are filled with pamphlets about the campus’ nutritional offerings.
Parents of K-12 should receive information in their back-to-school packets as well as through any monthly menu mailings or online updates. Consider sending logo’d reusable grocery bags home at student registration days filled with healthy eating tips and the myriad of forms and worksheets that are always a staple.
Embrace change and make school lunch a differentiator
Change is hard, but if your school elects to embrace a menu overhaul, consider shouting it from the rooftops. Use it as a differentiator to attract new students and families that embrace your efforts, and include it in your recruitment plan. Give every student a sports bottle to use for water instead of soda or energy drinks. Encourage health classes to assign students to keep a Food & Fitness journal. Get parents involved by offering a “healthy living” program through your PTA.
The days of plastic trays heaped with Tater Tots smothered in gravy may illicit fond memories from our childhood, but times have changed and so have school menu offerings. Today, you’re more likely to find tofu, turkey burgers and alfalfa sprouts … and kids don’t seem to mind!