Are you and your school on the same team?
My kids love school. I love it too! As a mom, I couldn’t be happier when they run out the door eager to learn and play and grow. I count on school to teach them so many things that I can’t, and to reinforce the habits and values that we build at home. So what’s not to love, except possibly when they unlearn? Choosing to eat and appreciate nutritious food is a lesson we try to practice at home every day, but when they’re off to school, meals and snacks don’t always present similar, healthy options.
School foods and nutrition are in the spotlight nationally because the federal government is poised to propose updated nutrition standards that could dramatically improve the food choices for our children. In December 2010, the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act was signed into law making the first significant investments in school nutrition in years. Pretty soon we’re expecting details to come forward about standards that could make foods and beverages sold in schools healthier. These standards will apply to foods and drinks sold in vending machines, à la carte lines and school stores. It will be the first update to standards for foods and drinks sold outside of meals in more than 30 years.
Many of these sugary drinks and salty snacks are exactly the foods that are not on the menu when moms are trying to limit junk at home. But when they are a daily option for our kids, it undermines our ability to instill values around nutrition. Moreover, these foods and drinks have a big impact on our children’s health. We know that more than one out of three young people in this nation are overweight or obese. It’s imperative that schools create an environment that supports the healthy choice, whether that’s in the meals or in the vending machines.
We are in a place right now where a mom’s voice can really make a difference. Right now, while the standards for these snack foods and drinks are being updated, we have real leverage to ensure that we have strong standards that support healthy schools. We need schools and moms to be on the same team. We need healthy food choices to be one of the things that we, and our kids, love most about school.
Shale Wong is a pediatrician, senior program consultant to the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the mother of two girls.