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Karen Showalter's picture
I’ll admit I’m a little weepy about the start of a new school year. My young kids are growing like weeds, and I’m not sure what happened to the month of August. But even if you’re on the teary-eyed end of the Back to School spectrum (like me), there are some big reasons to celebrate! Schools are working hard to provide yummy meal and snack options for kids, that are good for them too. And as parents we have a tremendous opportunity to get involved in making the school day a healthy one. To your stations! Here are five ways you can support healthy schools this year: 
I think parents can agree: healthy meals for our kids make sense. And thanks to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools are now offering healthy meals and snacks. School lunch and breakfast now include more fruits, vegetables and whole grain-rich foods; only fat-free or low-fat milk; “right-sized” meals with portions designed for a child’s age; and less saturated fat, trans fat and sodium. And snacks sold in school vending machines, stores, a la carte lines and snack bars must be: a fruit, veggie, dairy, whole grain or nut; under 200 calories; and low in fat, sodium and sugar. Great news, right? You’re not along if you agree. Surveys show the great majority of parents support healthy meals and snacks, limiting sodium in school meals, and requiring schools serve fruits and veggies with each meal. (1)
What you can do: Cheerlead. Seriously, it’s all about getting kids excited about the healthy changes. Moms know: it’s not always easy getting kids to eat new and/or healthy foods. Encourage your kids to try healthy options, prepare some of the new foods they’re seeing at school for dinner, and if possible even have lunch with your child one day! And be sure to thank school staff too. A little excitement and momentum can go a long way. 
Fundraisers can have a big impact on the healthy school day, too. Let’s be honest: who can resist a table of brownies or donuts on a Monday morning? But as parents, would we wish that upon our kids as they’re entering math class? Probably not. 
What you can do: While the updates to meals and snacks *don’t* cover fundraisers (they’re decided at the state level), encourage your school to explore healthy alternatives to bake sales. Events like fun-runs, read-a-thons and dance-offs can be incredibly effective, while also contributing to a healthy learning environment. Proactively suggest fun and healthy options to your child’s sports team, debate club, band leader, etc. this fall. And if you have time, offer to help hash out the details, too. Changing old habits can feel like a lot of work, so your pitching in to make change easy and exciting can make a big difference.
Birthdays are great and fun. Cupcakes 5 days/week? Not so much. Classroom parties aren’t covered by the healthy meal and snack updates, either. 
What you can do: Try addressing this at the school and personal levels. On the first: talk to your child's teacher or principal about asking parents to keep celebrations healthy. Suggest a list of healthy options, and offer to write up some ideas he/she can share with parents. Your support in making the change easy will go a long way. And set an example by making sure your child's school celebration is a healthy one. Maybe bring in a fun craft, a special book, or a healthy snack. Seriously: sometimes all people need are the ideas. You can help plant the seeds. 
Ever notice the prize coupons, sponsored scoreboards and donated workbooks plastered with corporate logos? Parents know how insidious marketing to kids can be. And there’s some progress on this front, too. Wellness Committees at the district and school level will be able to decide what’s cool and what’s not, when it comes to marketing in schools. These committees already exist, and the USDA is expected to release updated guidelines on how they must engage parents and community members later this year.
What you can do: Find out about your school’s Wellness Committee, and join it! This is a great opportunity to be part of the ongoing conversation around building healthy learning environments. Bonus: wellness committees can also set expectations around classroom celebrations! 
I can't stress this one enough. Moms and dads have already had a HUGE influence on the progress we’ve seen in recent years. Hundreds of thousands of us spoke out in support of healthy meals and snacks, and work hard every day to ensure our kids are healthy. Our work as parent-advocates can often go unrecognized, but parent to parent: thank you. Talking to our kids, backing up healthy changes, asking about what’s going on in the cafeteria, and getting involved in our schools makes a huge difference. The tide is definitely turning when it comes to healthy schools, and we’ve been the engine behind that change. Our work continues in 2015-16: together, we’re a force for healthy schools and communities!!
What you can do: Remember that together we are powerful! Keep sharing your ideas, and asking other parents for help. And stay awesome! :) 
Join us in speaking out about Nickelodeon's marketing of junk food to kids, and in demanding Congress protect funding for child nutrition programs (like school meals) this fall! And be sure to join the Good Food Force, our community of parents taking action to build healthier schools and communities. 

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