As students head back to school this year, many of them are also heading back to new school food as new meal standards begin to be implemented in cafeterias across the country.
With a third of American children being overweight or obese, over 31 million children participating in the National School Lunch Program, and 15 years since the last update, these updates to the school meal program have come at an important time.
The new regulations, which mean more fruit and vegetables, more whole grains, age-based calorie ranges and less salt and unhealthy fats, will go a long way to begin to remedy nutritional shortfalls and address key concerns in the childhood obesity epidemic. However, for many schools these changes won’t be easy and we all need to support them in order to allow schools to meet the updates as smoothly, quickly and easily as possible.
With these new regulations coming in to play this fall, we kicked off our very first community Google+ Hangout on this very topic – back-to-school and school food. Joining us on the hangout to talk about these new school food regulations and why they are so important were Chef Ann Cooper, Marshall Reid, Katie Bishop Nutrition Policy Associate from the CSPI and Dr. Eric Rimm from the Harvard School of Public Health, along with some of our very own Food Revolution ambassadors.
Shared by these school food advocates were some great tips on how to help implement these standards and get students involved and educated on them too - after all, these new and improved menus will only make a difference if students actually eat them:
- Get parents involved – keep parents updated on what changes are being made and why, and encourage them to start a Food Revolution at home. Feeding kids more fruit, vegetables and whole grains at home will mean that they are then more familiar with them when they see them at school.
- Review the school menu, hold taste tests for the new foods and survey students – see what they do and don’t like and why. Feedback is really important and making small adjustments based on this can help make a big difference.
- Get kids involved in the marketing of the new standards - whether it is through making posters, writing blog posts or adding information on to the school website. If students are more involved in the changes, they are more likely to eat the new food.
- Appoint some lunchroom champions – get students, teachers and parents involved at lunch time, talking about the new foods - why they are good, what they are good for – and eating with the students to encourage them to try new menu items.
- Cook together – whether it’s in an after school cooking club or at home, getting kids in the kitchen cooking will get them excited about food in general and educating them about real food will go a long way to helping make sure they eat it in the school cafeteria.
- Work together! Connect with your health and wellness committee (or create one) and work together to improve the wellness policy. Remember, schools can always go above and beyond the school meal regulations, so have a think about what else needs to change around the school – whether it’s tackling the food available in vending machines, on offer at fundraisers, or even getting flavoured milks out of the cafeteria. Get your wellness policy up to scratch and start making achievable goals for this school year.
You can watch the full hangout here, and hear what schools are doing to make these changes and get some more top tips for making small changes that will make a big difference.
We all have a role to play when it comes to the health of the nation, so let’s stand together for real food and make help support schools in making these important changes.
The Food Revolution Team
This post is part of the MomsRising "Making the School Day Healthier" Blog Carnival headlined by Top Chef Lorena Garcia."