|What’s for lunch? How to promote 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. Canadian statistics (1978/ 1979 and 2004) show that the prevalence of obesity is on the rise. 26% of Canadian children aged 2-17 are now overweight or obese, compared with 15% in 1978/79. Instances of obesity have tripled among the 12-17-year-old age bracket, ballooning from 3% to 9%.
- Sustainability efforts and carbon footprint reductions 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 school boards across Canada continue to take steps to ban fatty and sugary foods from being sold at schools, 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 with 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. 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 Lunch Caddies to carry fresh snacks. 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 Sport Bottle to use for water instead of soda or energy drinks. Encourage health class teachers to keep a food and fitness journals by handing out the Essence Journal, and 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 elicit 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!