Susan Davis Gryder 0000-00-00 00:00:00
SNAPSHOT ■ If children don’t “get” the value of nutritious food choices, your healthy meals will go in the trash. ■ You can provide nutrition education through simple steps or complex projects. ■ Activities and projects that are original, creative and dynamic will resonate with students. Your school’s instructional staffers aren’t the only “teachers” who can make a lasting impact on kids. It doesn’t matter whether your school meals program serves 400 kids or 40,000. The odds are that your plate is pretty full with the responsibilities associated with prepping and serving nutritious, appealing, federally compliant meals to school children. It’s likely that you feel understaffed for the job, whether you have several employees who report to you or you are a oneperson school nutrition wonder. It’s a safe bet that you don’t have the budget needed that would allow the program to realize its full potential. Daily distractions and “urgent” “crises” that divert your time and attention are to be expected. And yet, if you can’t find opportunities to serve up some nutrition education along with your healthy meals, the rest barely matters. Sure, marketing campaigns and strategies are essential. Repeated exposure to unfamiliar menu items helps. Peer acceptance is important. But when you consider what you are up against (poor dietary habits nurtured at home and on the go and reinforced by a heavy-duty food industry marketing machine), if children don’t “get” the value of nutritious choices (and the consequence of unhealthy habits), your meals will go in the trash, participation will drop and hungry, economically disadvantaged children who rely on school meals will lose their anonymity and dignity. Nutrition education is as important as anything and everything else you do in your program. But because your plate is full, you are under-staffed and you don’t have the budget you need, it’s okay to identify the nutrition education opportunities that work best for you. Maybe your commitment will be minimal, maybe it will be elaborate—but every little bit helps. From simple routines to involved projects to complex programs, there are many ways to incorporate nutrition education into your day. If you can set aside a few minutes—or a few months!— there is inspiration to be found. In this article, School Nutrition offers a spectrum of ideas and best practices to consider. Inspired Instruction If you have just a day or two each month to devote to nutrition education activities, you can devise a number of ways to capture children’s interest while imparting a little knowledge about healthy eating. School nutrition professionals around the country are finding original and time efficient ways to bring nutrition education to their schools and cafeterias. Featured Foods. Nancy Allen, cook/ manager at Granby Elementary School in Worthington (Ohio) School District, developed a produce-of-the-month program to showcase new, nutritious fruits and vegetables. Allen spends just a few minutes using the Internet to research interesting fun facts about the highlighted food item and then posts the information in the cafeteria. At breakfast, the children participate in trivia quizzes; she lets them choose from a grab bag of small prizes (pens, pencils, magnets, etc.) as a reward. The featured food also is included in various menu items throughout the month. “It’s so easy to find recipes and facts on the Web,” Allen notes, “and it’s fun to surprise them. They were amazed to learn that the cookie bars they loved at the snack table were made with sweet potatoes!” Concentration. When she wanted to promote good nutrition choices to students, Foodservice Director Diana Goode, Wellington (Ohio) Exempted Village School District, worked with her local dairy council to create a fresh approach— one that would be educational and entertaining— for students to learn about the nutritional benefits of milk. The result was a giant memory/fact matching game. Goode ordered two identical sets of Got Milk? posters (14 posters in each). On the back of each pair, she and her team listed a specific nutrient (calcium, vitamin D, etc.) found in milk on one set and the corresponding benefit on the other. The posters were placed face-up on the floor. The kids raced to match the nutrient with its job description. Goode and her team first conducted the game with 9th-graders during their health class. They organized it again for 4th-8th- graders as part of a Fuel Up to Play 60 kickoff event in the gym. Every match won a prize provided by the National Dairy Council: lanyards, squishy footballs, coupons to cash in at the register for an extra milk serving at lunchtime, etc. Nutrition Two-Step. Goode also develops programs that involve the youngest children in nutrition education! Students in the district’s K-3 school who get “caught” eating their fruits and vegetables on selected days have their picture taken and are invited to the middle of the cafeteria to do a “vegetable dance” with the teacher. “There’s a different dance for each vegetable,” laughs Goode, “and kids are now eating broccoli, just so they can see their teachers dance!” Assembling Your Partners. When she was the nutrition education specialist in Richmond County (Ga.) School System, Kelly Schlein sought to engage the participation of all the educators in her schools. At a faculty meeting, Schlein (who has since become school nutrition director for the Jasper County [Ga.] School District) convinced the district’s elementary school principal and teachers to join her for World School Milk Day. Schlein coordinated an assembly and helped her fellow educators with their contributions. For example, the music teacher composed a dairy-themed song, featuring dance moves, while the language arts teacher coordinated an essay contest on the importance of dairy and the art teacher worked with students to construct a “Marvelous Milk Creation”: a 12-ft.-tall wheeled sculpture made entirely of milk cartons and blinking lights! On the day of the assembly, students painted their faces with cow prints and milk mustaches, and the principal dressed as a farmer and told dairy-themed jokes. The assembly was a huge hit with students and teachers alike! “Assemblies aren’t a lot of work when you have key teachers that take pride in doing their part,” Schlein asserts. “I have found that you are more or less the ‘wedding director’ of the assembly, rather than doing all the work yourself.” In It for the Long Haul Some school nutrition directors have found ways to devote significant time and effort to nutrition education in their districts. Take Miguel Villareal, who put his love of fitness and biking to the test as a means to bring nutrition information to families in his community. Villareal is the director of food and nutritional services (FANS) for Novato Unified School District, serving 7,500 kids in California’s Marin County. Since coming to Novato from Texas, he’s worked hard to incorporate a collaborative, community-based approach to conveying nutrition messages throughout the district’s schools—through changes in cafeteria offerings, as well as education activities and promotions. Among the steps he’s taken, Villareal removed juice products, flavored milk and other highsugar items from school menus; he estimates he’s reduced sugar availability by 500 pounds a day—36 tons each year! Villarreal wanted to identify a compelling way to communicate this achievement to his community—and promote a better understanding of the high amounts of sugar most Americans consume on a daily basis. He found the perfect opportunity in the annual Tour of Novato. Begun at one school in 2008, this community bike ride and wellness fair has blossomed into a dynamic, district-wide fundraising event for the public school system. “I asked to join the organizing committee,” Villareal recounts, finding it a great forum for building community awareness about wellness and physical fitness issues. In 2011, the event also allowed Villareal to leverage a longtime personal passion for cycling: “I said to myself, ‘My challenge is going to be towing 100 pounds of sugar!’” Villareal cast about for sponsors and found an equipment manufacturer to provide funds for the purchase of a bike trailer large enough to carry the bags of sugar. His staff helped him create a frame out of PVC pipe that sported two signs: one that broadcast the number of pounds of sugar that FANS had eliminated from school menus and the other promoting the fact that the department was featuring produce items from local organic farms on its menus. On the day of the Tour of Novato, Villareal rode his bike to a local bakery and picked up 100 pounds of sugar. After meeting up with other cyclists, he continued towing his trailer of sugar to another town, more than 30 miles away! In that community, he exchanged the sugar for 100 pounds of produce from local farms and rode back to the wellness fair, where the FANS team had its own booth. There, he accepted congratulations from attendees for his long, 70-mile haul, and offered them more information about sugar, its impact on health and ways to reduce refined sugar in daily diets. “The towing was challenging!” recalls Villareal. “I definitely had to train for it; there are lots of rolling hills on the route. I remember the very first hill was about two miles long and I thought, I can’t stop, because if I do, there’s no way I will get started again!” Villareal says his impressive physical feat helped draw attention to important nutrition issues; crowds of families along the route cheered him on with cries of “There goes the Sugar Guy!” For the 2012 Tour of Novato ride, Villareal kept the trailer but changed his promotional emphasis to focus on the importance of breakfast. He also wanted to make this effort more participatory, encouraging elementary school students and parents to come and ride. “In the end, almost 60 kids, plus their parents—and a police car escort—rode along with me!” Villareal decorated his bike trailer with Break for Breakfast signage, and led the group on a seven-mile loop, stopping for a healthy breakfast at the halfway point. With the help of a sponsorship from his local Whole Foods Market, Villareal treated the riders to a breakfast parfait recipe that he serves in his schools; it’s full of nuts, mangos, oats, soy milk and organic yogurt. The Farmer’s Market Goes to School Barbara Nissel, foodservice supervisor for the Great Valley (Penn.) School District, has made a longtime commitment to featuring locally produced foods on her cafeteria menus, and she regularly takes advantage of her state Department of Agriculture’s initiatives to encourage school districts to work with local farmers. But she knew this was just half the battle. The real test is convincing students to taste and appreciate the local bounty. Nissel has employed numerous strategies, from inviting local chefs to visit her schools to promoting her district’s garden (a popular destination for classes, afterschool groups, scout troops and even senior citizens and corporate retreat participants, who all come to weed and harvest). But how to keep things fresh and new to ensure students stay engaged in learning about the benefits of healthy food options? She hit on an original idea: Why not bring a farmer’s market into the cafeteria? Two or three times every month, custom-built farm stands are situated in a central place in the middle and high lunchrooms. Each stand is staffed by retired teachers wearing funky straw hats with plastic fruit attached to the brim. “The kids see the stand pushed out and they see the teachers in their hats, and they know it’s Market Day!” says Nissel. To ensure she has a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables available for the farm stands (one built by a local Eagle Scout), Nissel works with area growers and the local food bank, and also uses food grown in the school district’s community garden. The “farm stand ladies” distribute free samples of the featured fruit or vegetable, along with related nutrition facts. The item also is included on that day’s menu. Nissel cites jicama slices, leek soup and cucumber onion salad as recent menu offerings that complemented the farm stand displays. She’s also served a harvest pizza featuring onions and butternut squash from the harvest of the district garden. And if an item proves popular, Nissel adds it to her regular menu. Nissel can report without equivocation that the kids love the Farmer’s Market. In fact, “At one point we thought we would run out of funding for the Farmer’s Market, and the kids started a petition to keep it!” she recounts. Finding What Fits As these stories, plus the ideas featured in the box on page 45, demonstrate, there’s no limit to the ways that nutrition education can be incorporated into a school nutrition program. The conditions and circumstances of each individual school nutrition operation may vary, but one thing remains true: The value of promoting healthy eating choices. You may only have the attention of your student customers for a limited amount of time in any given week, but the potential for making the most of that time is enormous. Whether you attempt a complex project or take simple, easy-to-implement steps, every way that you make nutrition information accessible, easy to understand and even fun, you’re helping kids establish good habits that will follow them wherever they go in life. One day, their future healthy selves will thank you! Susan Davis Gryder is a freelance writer in Silver Spring, Md. Photography by iStockphoto, Wavebreak Media, Hemera and PhotoObjects. net. A Little Goes a Long Way What? You don’t have time to build and staff a farm stand? You just don’t have the creativity to write a nutrition play? Feats of athletic prowess just aren’t your thing? It doesn’t mean you can’t fi nd meaningful ways to disseminate valuable nutrition information to your students. Here’s a sampling of ways that your peers in other communities are ensuring that nutrition education is a priority, every day, in small but important ways. Bring the Kids to the Kitchen Shelley Blair, foodservice director, Bangor Township (Mich.) Schools, holds minicontests in her cafeterias. The winners earn a visit to their school’s kitchen, where they learn about healthy eating, food preparation, food safety and sanitation, and get to try their skills with food prep and service. They also help choose a marketing campaign for the day and taste new menu offerings. Get the Word Out In Oakridge (Mich.) Public Schools, Foodservice Secretary/ Manager Paula Dutton has introduced a monthly nutritionbased newsletter that provides health- and nutrition-themed content, including recipes, word scrambles and meal ideas. Reach and Teach Jennie Cheesman, manager, Apollo Elementary School in Titusville, Fla., is always trying new nutrition education tricks, from tasting parties to advertising in the school newspaper to participating in general wellness activities. She finds teaching food classes in the kitchen and in classrooms to be a perennial favorite with kids! Connect With Kids Atonia Isenhower, cafeteria manager, Shawnee (Okla.) High School, seeks numerous ways to connect with students, including bulletin board displays of the fruit or vegetable of the day and information about the ways that it benefits growing bodies. A Sticky Situation In Warren County (Tenn.) Schools, Bookkeeper Renee Griffith says her colleagues give away stickers when children try a new fruit or vegetable offering. “Elementary students do anything for a sticker!” she reports.
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