SHNAC (not SNAC) Gives Kids a Voice in School Health

March 24, 2010

At the first meeting of our school’s Student Health and Nutrition Advisory Council (SHNAC!), the group elected officers, established norms and set goals in just a half hour. Yesterday I was honored to join the group, and I was amazed at their awareness and interest in making their school healthier. Here are some highlights:

  • Until recently, students picked up their lunch trays in the cafeteria and brought them back to their classrooms. Our principal estimated this took about 15 minutes out of each day, so in the meeting, we ran the numbers to find that over the entire school year, students were spending the equivalent of about 7.5 days waiting in the cafeteria line! Think of all the learning they missed out on!
  • They said they wanted bottled water as a beverage choice for lunch, and we discussed dispensers to avoid generating waste.
  • Someone suggested a build-your-own breakfast bar with oatmeal, cream of wheat, fruit, yogurt, granola and other healthy items. They thought a fruit and salad bar for lunch would also be great.
  • One student mentioned that we need to consider the cost of such changes because ‘healthy stuff is more expensive.” Another concurred, “Yeah, like at McDonalds, have you noticed a burger is $2 and a salad is $5, and the yogurt parfait is made with canned fruit!”
  • I asked them how they knew something was healthy or not. They said knew colorful fruits and vegetables where healthier and they were also familiar with the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid.
  • We discussed whether the Chicken Taco was healthier than the Chicken Patty on Bun. One student thought the sandwich would be a better choice if the taco shell is fried. We thought about what kinds of foods we usually eat with tacos (they named lettuce, tomatoes, cheese, salsa), and Chicken Patty on Bun (ketchup, mustard, pickles).
  • During the taco vs. sandwich discussion, one student said there’s no way we can see the vitamins inside the food, so how do we really know? I asked them if they knew what a whole food was. We talked about nature vs the factory. One student said he used whole foods to make risotto in the after school cooking club led by a parent/chef.
  • For several years now, our school has hosted a weekend organic farmers market. This year, for the first time, our students will run a booth there, selling craft and food items they have made.

News Flash: Kids Like Broccoli!

March 24, 2010

A mom at our school sent me this note earlier this month:

Hey there~

I thought you would enjoy this story.  The other day when H. and I were talking about the different parts of his day, we discussed lunch.  He was a little upset.  Why?  He had eaten all of his steamed broccoli and none of the other kids wanted to share theirs!  Everyone was gobbling the broccoli.  He said, “Ms. K. makes really good broccoli!  Perfectly crunchy.”

I felt so lucky to have Ms. K. in our lives.  What a testament to preparing veggies properly.  I think there are many of us who lost years of veggie consumption after being turned off by overcooked mushy green stuff camouflaged with “cheese” sauce!  Also goes to show kids will eat vegetables without bribery or having to hide them in other foods.

Increasing Participation in School Meals

March 1, 2010

My child has just started attending a public school in a district that has had about as many food service contractors as it has had superintendents. Currently, Sodexo holds the contract and last week, I met with their representatives, our cafeteria manager, the school principal and another mom to talk about what we could do to help market school meals.

At our school, only about 28% of our students qualify for free and reduced price meals under the National School Lunch Act. So few students eat school meals that our cafeteria team was reduced by one. That makes it even harder for our manager to prepare the fresh, homemade dishes on the menu. That’s right. Homemade. At our school, we are lucky to have very few packaged items on the menu. (We recently asked that Super Doughnuts be taken off the menu and they were, thankfully!)

For the meeting, I prepared a short list of things we can do to market our cafeteria’s offerings. We divided the list into two parts — what can be done now, with little or no money, and what we want to do in the fall when school starts again. Here is the list:

Phase 1: Spring 2010

1. Meet with cafeteria staff and principal to find out what we can do to help. (Check!)

2. Create a parent and student survey to find out if there is a negative perception of our cafeteria food. The survey should find out what drives the decision to eat in the cafeteria or not. Is it culture or religion? Allergies? Vegetarian/vegan diets? Food quality issues relating to organics, hormones, humane treatment of animals?

3. Make sure parents know that good food is being served at school. (At breakfast, for instance, there is almost always a choice of oatmeal, cream of wheat or grits. Our cafeteria manager serves fresh fruit and vegetables as often as possible, and takes care to make sure the food isn’t overcooked.) We agreed to start sending fliers home weekly, each one communicating a few short facts about our school’s cafeteria. Topics include free breakfast for everyone, applying for free/reduced price meals, paying outstanding credits (currently $5000!), nutrition concepts and more.

4. Make sure that  parents know of any changes to the menu, which is printed monthly for the entire district, but is subject to change.

5. Form a Student Nutrition Advisory Council (SNAC). The students will act as ambassadors to the cafeteria, giving the cafeteria a fun name and creating a nice looking menu. On sample days, they can wear chef’s hats and serve their friends a new food to try.

6. Get everyone on the same page. Teachers can be very influential, and should be discouraged from making negative comments about school meals. Talking to students about healthy choices is one thing, making blanket statements is quite another.

7. Make a list of how food is used in the classroom and after school programs, specifically snack-making and cooking lessons. Are the lessons covering nutrition, food literacy and food marketing concepts as well? Research nutrition education programs for Fall 2010.

8. Our students currently eat lunch in their classrooms, which has virtually eliminated discipline problems, but they still line up to get their trays from the cafeteria, then carry their food back to their rooms, some of which are two floors up! Our principal has been trying to get carts so meals can be delivered to the classrooms (and served family style). Before the next week was out, our Sodexo reps had delivered the carts we needed!

Stage 2: Fall 2010

This spring and at the beginning of the school year, put plans in place for the following events:

1. Regular samplings of fresh fruits and vegetable that are typically served in the cafeteria. The samples will be offered to all students, whether they eat school meals or packed lunches.

2. Invite parents to eat breakfast and lunch on a regular basis.

3. Hold a food/health fair: coordinate it with a garden harvest, sample fresh fruits and vegetables and other healthy menu items, parent chefs will demonstrate recipes or lead hands-on cooking lessons.

4. Hold a commodity cook-off in the spirit of Iron Chef. Invite cafeteria staff, parents, local chefs to participate, consider making it a fundraiser to pay for serving equipment, etc.

The cafeteria team was grateful for the help, and we learned that more fresh fruits and vegetables were coming from the USDA, that salads would be on the menu every day for the next week, and that Sodexo could help secure grant funding for our SNAC committee.

Promoting School Meals with Weekly Fliers

March 1, 2010

This is the first of the weekly fliers we are sending home with students:

Quick Facts About Breakfast at Our School

  1. Breakfast is FREE for every student. Adults pay just $2.50 (less than a latte!).
  2. Breakfast is served in the cafeteria from 7:45 – 8:15. On assembly days, breakfast is served in the classroom.
  3. Research confirms that breakfast eaters…
    • have higher test scores, work faster, make fewer errors and are more creative
    • are less likely to be sent to the principal or visit the school nurse
    • are more cooperative and get along with classmates
    • are healthier and have improved attendance
    • are more able to concentrate on learning (Action for Healthy Kids)

Make a date to have breakfast at Our School with your family, other parents and friends!

If you have questions about school meals, please contact our cafeteria manager!

Other Quick Fact topics may be…
The Business of School Meals (reimbursements, costs, etc.)
Applying for free/reduced price meals
What is a Whole Food?
Eating For Color
Favorite Children’s Books About Food
Tips for Helping Your Child Enjoy Fresh Fruits and Vegetables
Food Additives to Avoid