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 Facebook.com/TrayTalk
For more great information please visit: www.schoolnutrition.org

Creating a Healthier Next Generation

Written by Role Mommy wing mom, Danielle Feigenbaum

Thumbnail image for anc14.jpg
Last week the School Nutrition Association held their Annual National Conference in Boston, MA. I was lucky enough to attend the conference where I met so many amazing people and learned a ton about providing schools with healthy food. Who knew how much actually goes into getting healthier foods into our kid’s schools AND trying to figure out how to educate them to eat it! So many kids across the country are not exposed to different fruits and vegetables at home. It’s great to have healthy food in the schools, but we also don’t want to waste it – we want the kids to eat and enjoy it!
healthyplate.jpg The huge exhibit hall had hundreds of companies that are working on lowering the sugar and sodium amounts in their products as well as meeting new government standards for whole grains. In the upcoming 2014-2015 school year all grains served for breakfast and lunch should be whole grain-rich (at least 50%). Some of the pizza companies are working on making their crusts with more whole grain, but keeping the look of white flour so kids will eat it. There were also companies who are creating ways to get younger kids to try new foods and learn about staying healthy. They have fun stickers you can receive that say “I tried it!” when they try something new (what kid doesn’t love stickers?) And this fun plate that shows all the different food groups you should be eating at each meal.
I had the pleasure of being escorted around the exhibit floor with two amazing District Supervisors of School Nutrition. First, Debbi Beauvais from Rochester NY. I had no idea how much actually goes into planning the food and the payment schools received for each kid. There are many challenges when you live in an urban area, unfortunately it is very expensive to get lots of fruits, veggies and non prepackaged food. On the other side was Director Doug Davis from Burlington, VT who participates in a Farm 2 School initiative to bring local produce to the cafeterias. I love the idea of kids being involved in knowing where the food they eat comes from. If we can get the kids outside planting and visiting farms, maybe they will be more likely to try new and healthy foods. We all know that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and The Burlington School Food Project serves free breakfast to all students. Debbi and Doug both had a ton of knowledge regarding school nutrition and as a parent of two picky elementary school children, they really opened my eyes to what is going on in our school. I was very inspired to get more involved and I think parents everywhere should know exactly what is going on with their school’s breakfast, lunch and snack.
exhall.jpg
The SNA and USDA want to create a healthier next generation. Kids spend so many hours in school and need to be better educated about why eating healthy is so important. Thanks to updated standards kids are now eating 10% more veggies and 23% more fruit at lunch. But this is only the start, we need to help schools get the proper equipment and funding to make healthier foods as well as the education component.
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 Facebook.com/TrayTalk
For more great information please visit: www.schoolnutrition.org

Packing Your Kids A Healthy Lunch

pic 1.jpg
Nutrition has become a hotly debated topic over the last decade. The alarming rate of increasing childhood obesity and diabetes diagnoses has led parents and educators to take a second look at children’s diets. 

School lunches are promoted as being nutritious and well-balanced, but the items served on meal trays are often lacking or devoid of any nutritional value. Unhealthy foods are commonly provided such as fried meat patties and French fries, and the supply of fruits and vegetables usually comes from cans. Canning removes almost all of the valuable water-soluble vitamins leaving the fruits and vegetables with little or no nutritional value.
pic 2.jpg
School lunch programs are driven by a goal to provide a high number of calories to make up for a hypothetical decreased availability of food in lower-income households. On the contrary, a recent study that was released by the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in August, 2013 revealed that the rate of preschool child obesity in low-income U.S. households has doubled in recent decades. Parents can help stop the unhealthy trend by avoiding meals provided by the school and sending their children off with well-planned healthy lunches and snacks.
pic 3.jpg
Children are more likely to eat healthy foods that are attractive as well as delicious. Fruits and vegetables can be cut into fun shapes with a miniature cookie cutter and sandwiches can be made into bite-sized shapes that are smaller and more appealing. Fun creations such as “ants on a log” are easy to make and fun to eat. Many companies market healthy, kid-portioned varieties of healthy foods. Yogurt producers often sell their products in smaller portions with appealing packages, though some of the options include candy bits and other unhealthy additives.

Providing variety of healthy foods from week to week will help keep children interested in nutritious lunches from home.
Following are a few ideas of nutritious foods that can be interchanged to maintain variety:
grapes
carrots
celery sticks
low-fat cheese slices
peanut butter
whole wheat bread
whole wheat crackers
pretzels
yogurt
raisins
sliced green peppers
apples
cucumbers
olives
kiwi fruit



You might be concerned about packing a lunch for your child since no refrigeration is provided up until lunch time. Because of this, certain foods such as meat and yogurt may start to spoil before your child has a chance to eat them. When you make the commitment to begin packing your child or children’s lunch every day, you might want to invest in a small cooler or insulated lunch pack for each child. You can fill these with ice bags or cold packs to keep the food from spoiling before lunchtime.
Many families are choosing to reduce or eliminate meat from their diets for both health and environmental reasons. Healthy complete proteins from meatless sources can be added to children’s lunches by choosing food items such as beans, rice and peanut butter. One of the healthiest and most efficient foods a human can eat is quinoa. The kids didn’t quite know what to make of this when I first introduced it, so I started out by cooking it as a side dish with dinner a few times. Eventually the whole family started asking for it. I have since come up with a recipe for cold bean and quinoa salad which I have been making on a weekly basis for school and work lunches. Just a small serving of this provides enough vitamins and complete proteins to last until dinner.
pic 4.jpg
If your child is reluctant to take his or her own lunch to school, you can inspire a sense of enjoyment by turning the idea into something fun. Start by taking your child along to pick out a lunch box that displays a favorite character. Ice packs shaped like ladybugs, baseballs and princess crowns can also be found at retail stores. The best way to get children excited about packed lunches is the lunch itself. Along with healthy representations of all the food groups, don’t forget to pack something fun like all-natural fruit leather or gelatin snacks for dessert. Encouraging healthy habits is essential for fostering children’s appreciation for living a life focused on wellness and good nutrition.
Author Bio:
Beth_Waters.jpg
I’m Beth, a southern girl, the mother of two rambunctious children, a blogger on health and fitness, and a freelance writer for medical companies such as Liberty Medical. My blog is a guide through mine and my family’s efforts to live a healthier life.