How to encourage healthy eating in schools

School meals matter. Just ask any teacher or parent and theyll tell you that children who lack proper nutrition have trouble focusing in school. Medical authorities and nutrition researchers have documented that youngsters who eat nutritious meals every day and lead active lifestyles tend to excel. More importantly, our schools are on the frontline of efforts to improve childhood nutrition, our collective health, and the future of our great nation. Improving the meals that our kids eat in schools is an important step to achieve that goal.

As secretary of agriculture, I oversee the federal governments school nutrition programs, and these programs are uniquely positioned to lead the way to improve poor diets, promote physical activity, and advance the nutritional education of Americas children. The commitment of the Obama administration to these issues is very real, as evidenced by the launch of First Lady Michelle Obamas Lets Move campaign to solve childhood obesity within a generation. The Lets Move campaign will combat the epidemic of childhood obesity through a comprehensive approach that builds on effective strategies, and mobilizes public and private sector resources. And now the First Lady is using the upcoming reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act as the legislative centerpiece to improve the overall nutrition of school meals.

The importance of school meals is underscored by the current state of the health and nutrition of our nations children. Obesity is our fastest-growing public health issue with roughly 1 out of 3 children overweight or obese. The lack of access to proper nutrition is also leading to food insecurity and hunger among our children. A recent USDA report showed that in 2008, an estimated 16.7 million children lived in households that experienced hunger multiple times throughout the year. Meanwhile, school-age children are not eating the recommended levels of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products, according to a 2009 Institute of Medicine report.

  • Congress will soon be debating the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act, which presents us with a unique and important opportunity to improve the health and nutrition of children across the nation. The National School Lunch Program serves approximately 31 million children in more than 100,000 of our schools. Meanwhile, 11 million kids participate each day in the National School Breakfast Program. For many children, the breakfast and lunch they get at school is the only healthy food they eat all day. By improving school meals, we are not only providing important nutritional assistance, but we are also helping kids to be better equipped to feed their minds.
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  • The Obama administration has proposed a historic investment of $10 billion in additional funding over 10 years to better our child nutrition programs by improving access to the programs, serving more nutritious meals, and enhancing program performance. This funding is necessary to reduce hunger and enhance access to these important programs and to serve healthier and more attractive school meals. This is an important investment in our children and the future health and well-being of America.

Our greatest opportunity is to improve overall nutrition standards for school meals and extend these science-based standards to all food sold in schools. The USDA is in the process of updating the meal requirements for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs to reflect the latest dietary guidelines for Americans. We are following the Institute of Medicines report that recommends increases in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free/low-fat milk and milk products, and limitations on the levels of sodium, saturated fat, trans fat, and calories in school meals. Following a strong reauthorization, we anticipate school meals will:

  1. Involve more on-site food preparation and actual cooking.

Be prepared by food-service professionals who have appropriate training and support to meet our improved nutritional goals.

Include more locally produced food.

Consist of more whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and fat-free/low-fat milk and milk products.

Extending science-based nutrition standards to all food sold in schools involves establishing minimum nutrition standards for the whole school environment, including foods in the à la carte lines and in vending machines, to ensure that they complement a healthy diet. The USDA will work with Congress through reauthorization and later through public rule-making to determine the best process to improve the school environment. We also can do more to help upgrade school cafeteria infrastructure and support training for school food-service professionals so that they have the tools to prepare healthy meals that are also appealing to students.

By working with Congress, we also want to reduce barriers and encourage increased participation in school meal programs. This means urging states to continue to use direct certification and creating avenues for low-income school districts to reduce paperwork and make it easier for children to participate. But we also must reach kids when they arent in school—on weekends, during the summer months, during breakfast, and in after-school environments—because no child in America should go hungry. With these changes, we expect that our reforms will bring nutritious meals to another 1 million kids over the next five years.

At the same time, the federal government cannot tackle nutrition, hunger, and obesity issues on its own. We must engage partners at all levels, including parents, elected officials, educators, food-service workers, public health professionals, and others who are positioned to improve the health and nutrition of our children. Already, the private sector is taking action, with major food suppliers making commitments to decrease the amount of sugar, fat, and salt in school meals and increase servings of produce and whole grains.

Just as students need good teachers for inspiration and caring parents for encouragement, they need a strong nutritional foundation to succeed in life. And this nutritional foundation starts with healthy school meals. Its imperative that we deliver—for our children, our collective health, and the future of our great country.

How to encourage healthy eating in schools

Kids learn better eating habits when schools provide healthy foods. Find out what you can do to promote nutritious foods at your school.

Ensure Families Get Information About School Meal Programs

Schools play an important role in shaping lifelong healthy eating habits by offering nutritious meals through federal child nutrition programs external icon . School meals include milk, fruit, vegetables, and whole grains, and they provide key nutrients like calcium and fiber. As students return to school in person or do virtual learning from home, schools may be using a variety of methods to ensure students have access to nutritious meals.

Some students may eat meals in their classroom, while students learning from home may pick up grab-and-go meals from the school or other community sites. It’s important for schools to communicate with families about the benefits of school meals and different meal options during in-person and virtual instruction. Several meal service flexibilities that enable social distancing are now extended through June 30, 2022 external icon . Families can find more information about where to pick up meals for students on the Find Meals for Kids When Schools are Closed web page. external icon

Schools can use CDC’s School Meals Toolkit external icon to let parents know that free school meals are available for all children and to encourage their participation in school meal programs.

Encourage Students to Start Their Day With School Breakfast

Healthy students are better learners. Research shows that eating habits pdf icon [PDF – 480 KB] and healthy behaviors are connected to academic achievement. Student participation in the School Breakfast Program is associated with better grades and standardized test scores, reduced absences, and improved memory.

Give Students Enough Time to Eat School Lunch

When school meals are served in the cafeteria or classrooms, it’s important for students to have enough time to eat, socialize, and enjoy their meal. Schools should ensure that students have at least 10 minutes, once they are seated (seat time) for breakfast and at least 20 minutes for lunch. Having enough seat time is linked to more consumption of fruit, vegetables, lunch entrées, and milk, and less waste. 1-3

Promote Healthy Eating Throughout the School Day

Schools can use the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) approach to promote federal school meal programs and nutritious snacks outside of school meal programs. Parents can take part in promoting healthy eating in school by asking that healthy foods and beverages are available at school events, celebrations, and fundraisers. CDC’s Parents for Healthy Schools offers more ideas on how to get involved and advocate for your child’s health and well-being.

How to encourage healthy eating in schools

Make Nutrition Education Part of Instruction

Nutrition education is part of a well-rounded health education curriculum but can also be included in other classes. For example, students could:

  • Count with pictures of fruits and vegetables.
  • Learn fractions by measuring ingredients for a recipe.
  • Grow vegetables at school.
  • Learn about cultural food traditions.

There are different views on allowing serving of fast food items in schools and we present both the notions that support and oppose the idea of serving fast foods in schools.

How to encourage healthy eating in schools

Whenever we discuss the hot topic about health of school students, the discussion revolve around consumption of fast food by students. Fast food or commonly called junk food is the most favorite meal of students of every age. They can call fast food joints by name if they are asked ‘what type food do you like’ or ‘which is your favorite junk food?’. In broader terms, fast food can be described as a type of food that is processed and served very within minutes, for e.g. sandwiches, hamburgers, french fries, pizza, and noodles. It has been argued that fast food is not exactly as healthy as regular food. And school students are in the most crucial years of development physically as well as cognitively and it is really important to know what type of food they should consume and how it affects their health.

Here we discuss that based on the popular views should fast food be allowed to be served in schools or not.

Yes, fast food should be allowed in schools:

  • Fast food should be allowed in schools since every individual has the freedom and fundamental right to choose what they eat. Moreover, it is delectable and students love to enjoy it with their friends.
  • Fast food is not only easy to prepare but also takes less time and it can be arranged for a large number of students. It offers a lot of variety with different cuisines from many different countries and cultures presenting with many choices. This will save students from the regular monotonous and boring items. The raw material required is not so expensive and it makes for reasonably priced options. This is beneficial for those students who cannot afford expensive food stuff.
  • Fast food lets students consume fruits and vegetables as supplements which make for the nutrition value. Many food items are actually low on oil, carbohydrates, fat, and calories so there is no harm in eating this food stuff. We have been eating fast food for a long time and many people actually relish these dishes without showing any negative or harmful effect.
  • One big advantage is that the regular eaters know what exactly goes into the making of a particular product hence there would not be any doubt about what they are eating.
  • New items are now available that are even more healthy and come with choices for those who prefer vegetarian food. Students are wise and smart and they know what and how much to consume. Even few regular foods are not suited for all and might upset the stomach or cause other problems.

No, fast food should not be allowed in schools:

How to encourage healthy eating in schools

Students who eat full, balanced meals everyday are more likely to perform better academically and behaviorally.5 Often, the breakfasts and lunches provided by the school are the best way for children to get the nutrition that they need to concentrate in the classroom. In order to encourage your students to participate in the school lunch program, try these tips for modeling and promoting healthy eating habits.

Eat school lunch yourself. When students see you eating school lunch in the cafeteria, they may be inspired to follow suit. Seeing their teacher eat school lunch will show them that this is an easy, healthy option for mealtime.2

Focus on how different foods make them feel. Healthy foods tend to make you feel better and ready to take on the world—encourage students to realize this for themselves through activities that promote healthy choices.1 For example, have students talk about how they feel after they eat a banana versus how they feel after eating greasy fries. Allow students to make their own choices regarding snacks, but help guide them toward the “right” answer. 2 Use this as an opportunity to point out the nutritious snack foods that your school offers and draw attention to the fact that you are eating those yummy, healthy snacks.

Teach students about their body’s need for nutrients. If students understand why their body cannot thrive on a constant stream of junk food, they may be more likely to change their eating habits by utilizing school lunches.4

Plan a “field trip” to your school’s kitchen. Showing students how and where school lunches are made will personalize the food process while acquainting them with the staff. Once students get a firsthand look at the food program, they will see how clean and well-thought out each meal is which will encourage them to eat school lunches.3

Show students where to find more information. If you find that there isn’t enough time to talk about all of the benefits of the school lunch program, help provide students with more information in an age-appropriate way. For younger children, open up a dialogue using this superhero exercise to empower children and prime them for healthy eating. Then play games that teach them about basic nutrition. For older students, provide pamphlets or helpful websites like those of the CDC or USDA so that they can find out more information on their own time. The more they know, the more likely they are to make the right choices.4

Eating habits are developed during childhood. If they are taught and encouraged to pick healthier food and beverage early on, these behaviors will likely remain with children throughout their life.

Plus, teaching them to enjoy healthy options helps them develop a positive relationship with food, which can prevent eating disorders.

The school plays a pivotal role in promoting healthy habits among children since this is where they spend most of their waking hours. Schools influence the knowledge and behaviors of kids when it comes to diet – from the lessons taught in classrooms about nutrition to the food served in the cafeteria.

Schools can encourage healthy eating habits among their students by sending the right messages and involving the whole school community. Below are ways you can promote a healthy diet and nutrition in your school.

Serve healthy food and beverage options

The Department of Education established school food standards as part of its School Food Plan program. These guidelines include portion recommendations for fruits and vegetables, starchy food (i.e., bread), milk and dairy, sources of protein (e.g., meat, fish, eggs, beans) and drinks.

The school is required to follow these standards for all food served throughout the day, including the cafeteria, tuck shops, breakfast clubs, vending machines and after-school activities.

Children are also eligible for school milk under the EU subsidy scheme.

Assign a member of the Senior Management Team to oversee all aspects of food

All primary schools have a Senior Leadership or Management Team (SMT or SLT) composed of the head teacher, deputy head teacher and core subject coordinators. Assign one member of the SMT who will take charge of all food-related concerns in the school.

This person is responsible for working with the school council and catering staff to write the Food Policy. They will ask the children of their opinion of the food in school and take these into account when drawing up the guidelines.

The entire school community should know who the designated food officer is so that they know who to approach when they have concerns.

Provide practical food education training for your staff

Train your staff about diet, nutrition, food safety and hygiene, especially PSHE teachers and the catering personnel. The training will deepen their knowledge and skills when it comes to educating children about proper eating habits.

The staff can also share their experiences and learnings from the Continuing Professional Development (CPD) programs they’ve attended, such as nutrition diploma courses, safety and hygiene programs and local training from community dietitians.

Involve parents and carers when designing your food policy

How to encourage healthy eating in schools

Finally, consult the parents when creating your food guidelines. Talk to them about the kind of food and beverage they pack for their children. It will be much easier to develop positive eating habits among kids if they consume healthy options both in and outside of school.

Also, some parents may have kids with dietary restrictions, such as food allergies. These kinds of information help you create an inclusive nutrition plan in your school.

Establish a way for parents to give their feedback regarding the food in school to help you improve your policies.

Make nutrition education part of your health education curriculum and ensure that your school’s environment supports these teachings. Schools are a place of growth and development. And one way to promote positive development among children is to ensure that they’re getting the right nutrition and diet.

One of the biggest problems with schools, in relation to food, is the unorganized nature of school dinners. A large part of the blame can be put there, followed by the relative cheapness of ‘less healthy’ foods. With the rise of Diabetes and obesity amongst young people, our government faces a nutrition crisis like never seen before. Our problem is across the board. Not just at home or in school, but outside of school. The popularity of fast food restaurants is also contributing to the epidemic of food related health issues. That said, if we are to encourage change and new trends, we must bring attention to diet, starting with our children.
How to encourage healthy eating in schools

In recent years, however, government attitude to this has changed drastically. With the help of a number of celebrity chefs, who brought attention to the issue, our politicians drafted some fantastic guidelines for school authorities to implement. This included a nutrition curriculum and two main initiatives ‘Let’s move’ and ‘Grab 5’. How do we channel a child’s interest in this topic? In the future, our children will be in charge of their own food consumption. It is therefore important we engage with them properly regarding this matter.

Here are three innovative and interactive ways to promote healthy eating at school:

The Parent/Teacher Cooperation

Parents love to be made aware and feel included in the school’s ideas. A fantastic movement that is taking off across the UK, are parent/teacher committee meetings. These are devoted to discussing general issues, but make a perfect platform to discuss and encourage the school’s shift to a healthier eating plan. From nutrition curriculums to the schools budget for dinners, parents can be an enabling part of the process. This is their child after all. Statistics also reflect the notion that a parent, who has been involved in their child’s school curriculum program, is more likely to refine their meals at home.

Cookery club

It’s time to think about ways to directly engage in positive encouragement of healthy eating with the children themselves. A cookery club can be used to build this. In fact some schools have gone so far as to make a cookery club a part of the child’s week, rather than an optional extra-curricular activity. How can this impact innovatively? This type of interactivity allows a child to take possession of their own creativity. It plants the seeds for change, directing perception of healthy food from an early age.

The School Vegetable Patch

There are few things more rewarding than consuming your own produce. The school garden will provide opportunity for the learning and growing of good foods. From tomatoes to lettuce and onions, they’re all simple to grow, and represent an excellent opportunity to teach children the importance of good nutrition. Then, should the chance come, the children can enjoy their fresh produce once it’s grown! In turn, they will see the complete full circle benefit. We can show our children that healthy food isn’t boring food, it can be exciting too!

Public schools are dwelling for quite some time with the poor dietary habits of their pupils. The teachers, as well as the parents of the kids, are facing the problem that seems to have no solution. There were several attempts to change the diet habits for school children – the most famous one is coming from the UK, where chef Jamie Oliver tried to implement the healthy eating plan to kids – but almost none of them gave any significant results.

Healthy eating in school: a place to start

Although there are many challenges to the matter, some parents and teachers still believe that improving the diet in school is attainable. There are significant steps to go through, many of which require robust resources to begin with.

If we’d take a look at what we can do to start the process of changing the eating habits of the children in school, there are certainly some places that need to be covered first. For example, changing the school policy is an essential part of the process; without the permission of the school authorities there can be no real difference to the matter. On the other hand, if the school management approves the new ways of organizing and running the food consumption in the schools, there’s a similar chance that the decision will be followed without hesitation. In cases where there’s no consensus or unity on the matter, changes can be hard to implement.

The role of the system

When talking about the significant matter of changing food habits of the school kids, we must take into the account the role of both school and the parents. Although the school has a higher responsibility than parents, the system has to be supported by the parents, too.

If the parents join the mission to make their kids’ eating habits in school healthier, the impact would be more profound. Not only does the support sends the message to the school management, but it’s a clear statement of the parents’ intention to stood up for their kids and try to influence their habits outside of the home.

The steps in promoting healthy eating habits

Since there’s the mutual interest to address the problem from different points of view, the parents, the school, and the kids should follow the action plan that will make the strategy work.

In step one, the schools need to do their part and re-examine their policies and protocols. Making room for improvements has to start from realizing earlier mistakes and seeing things in a different perspective.

Step two is where the school merges their strengths with the parents, trying to create unity and prevent the disagreements that will cause the failure. Of course, there need to be constant adjustments, education, and advocacy on both the school and the parent’s behalf.

Finally, when two sides set the right mutual course, they can quickly approach to training and educate kids at school, and at home.

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How to encourage healthy eating in schools

healthy lifestyles, schools can cultivate healthy eating and encourage physical activity behaviors in students.

To make this process easier, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers best practices to help schools develop, implement and evaluate school-based healthy eating and physical activity practices.

Guidelines to make your school healthier

  • Use a coordinated approach to develop, implement and evaluate healthy eating and physical activity policies and practices. School officials, teachers, staff members, parents and students should work together to maximize healthy lifestyle opportunities.
  • Establish school environments that support healthy eating and physical activity. From the playground to the classroom, the entire school environment should encourage healthy choices.
  • Provide a quality school meal program and ensure students have only appealing, healthy food and beverage choices offered outside of the school meal program. Vending machines, concessions stands, school stores and after-school programs should all mimic the nutritional guidelines and offer balanced, healthy options.
  • Implement a comprehensive physical activity program with quality physical education as the cornerstone. Children and teens should participate in at least 60 minutes of physical activity every day. Physical education classes, recess and the encouragement of walking and bicycling to school can all be a part of this.
  • Implement health education that provides students the knowledge, attitudes, skills and experiences needed for healthy eating and physical activity. Arming students with the knowledge they need in school prepares them to be healthy adults in the future.
  • Provide students with health, mental health and social services to address healthy eating, physical activity and related chronic disease prevention. Resources should be readily available at schools – and for follow up – regarding the treatment of health conditions related to diet, physical activity and weight status.
  • Partner with families and community members in the development and implementation of healthy eating and physical activity policies, practices and programs. Partnerships promote consistent messaging about healthy behaviors and available resources; they also motivate students to live healthy lives.
  • Provide a school employee wellness program that includes healthy eating and physical activity services for all school staff members. Worksite wellness programs can improve staff productivity while decreasing absenteeism and employee health care costs.
  • Employ qualified persons and provide professional development opportunities for school staff members and out-of-school-time programs. Offering regular professional development opportunities for staff helps them improve current skills and acquire new ones.

By adopting these nine guidelines, schools can educate students in more than just reading, writing and arithmetic. They can offer the tools and resources students need to live healthy, active lives and reduce childhood obesity.

Read the School Health Guidelines to Promote Healthy Eating and Physical Activity in their entirety here.

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