Back at School: Creating a Healthier Next Generation

Written by Role Mommy Wing Mom, Danielle Feigenbaum
snaLogo.jpg Many parents in this country are obsessed with their children’s nutrition, and rightfully so! We know the sad statistics about childhood obesity being on the rise. Speaking for myself, I want my kids to have a well balanced diet and be active so they stay fit. Since school started this year, I decided to stop feeding my kids a sugary breakfast so I give them a hard boiled egg, banana and cereal high in fiber and protein. I want to make sure their brains are sharp, ready to learn and keep them full until lunch. Speaking of lunch, school lunch plays an essential role in our kid’s lives and I think parents and educators need know what is going on in our school cafeterias.
As I mentioned in a previous post, I attended the School Nutrition Association Conference back in July and it really opened my eyes to everything that goes in to getting the right food into school cafeterias as well as teaching the kids to eat it and even like it. School districts around the country are getting on board with this initiative. From the USDA: “Through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act championed by the First Lady and signed by President Obama, USDA made the first major changes in school meals in 15 years, which will help us raise a healthier generation of children. The new standards align school meals with the latest nutrition science and the real world circumstances of America’s schools. These responsible reforms do what’s right for children’s health in a way that’s achievable in schools across the Nation.”
I think some parents (like myself) feel that they can pack a nutritious lunch for their child, but if your home is anything like mine in the morning, it is so hard to pack their lunches at all, let alone make it healthy! Beth Teitel wrote an article for the Boston Globe called At lunch, home-packed may not mean healthy… “The nutritional shortcomings of school lunches have been a matter of national debate for decades — but the focus has been on what schools serve, not on what moms and dads pack in the lunch bags. Now Tufts University researchers have looked inside all those bags — and discovered that none of the lunches met all five National School Lunch Program standards, which emphasize fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low- or nonfat dairy, and only 27 percent of the lunches met at least three of the goals. There are many ways to go wrong with lunch, but one of the insidious is what she calls the “at least” strategy. “Parents make the ‘at least’ compromise,” she said. ” ‘At least’ chocolate milk has calcium. ‘At least’ chicken nuggets have protein. If you think of the cumulative effect of the ‘at least’ mindset, we’re teaching our kids the exact opposite habits we want them to have. We’re dumbing down their diets, and more importantly, we’re pushing their taste buds towards junk and away from healthy foods.”
This is such a good point, I find myself doing this all the time. As hard as I have tried, my ten year old and seven year old are pretty picky eaters. When my daughter was at sleep away camp this summer she tried so many new foods and ate healthy foods she never tried before because that’s what all the girls at her table were doing. Sometimes peer pressure can be a good thing 😉 How great would it be to have that at school as well? All the kids trying the healthy new item that’s for lunch, together. We wonder why European children eat so much better? I saw an article that showed the amazing lunches they serve to their children at school… French school lunches show how to teach kids healthy eating habits. That is all they know and that is what they eat.
Not only do we need to get healthier foods into the cafeterias (which the SNA is doing a great job with), we also need to educate students on why they should eat healthy. Let’s get creative! Some schools have tried colorful signage in cafeterias, creative food presentations (fruit cut into shapes, etc.), taste-test events, student cooking contests, themed-days, and nutrition curriculums incorporated into the classrooms. You can also help at home–read through the menu with your kids, discuss the healthy options, ask them about the new foods they tried at school, maybe reward them with a cool sticker if they try a new food.
For information about cafeteria menu items, nutritional information, or ingredients in your child’s school lunch, contact your school Cafeteria Manager. He/she can answer questions about everything from meal preparation methods to waiting time in line. For more detailed questions, the Cafeteria Manager may refer you to the Nutrition Director who oversees cafeteria operations and menu planning for the entire school district. The Nutrition Director’s contact information is usually available on the district website.
Let’s all get on board and do what we can to help keep our kids healthy!
The School Nutrition Association launched Tray Talk as a way to provide parents with information about healthy school meals and offer tips on how to get involved in school nutrition programs. Join the conversation at
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