TOP 6 SUGGESTIONS FOR CREATING CHANGE IN YOUR SCHOOL
1. Implement our free (in NYS) Wellness Wakeup Call Program
2. Add healthy whole foods plant-based entrees to your cafeteria menu each day
3. Add a salad bar that features fresh fruits and vegetables
4. Get rid of deep and flash fried foods and other highly processed foods in the cafeteria
5. Implement a Farm to School program both in and out of the cafeteria.
6. Get rid of junk food vending machines and the use of food as rewards in classrooms, and instead offer a fresh fruit and vegetable snack program.
New York Coalition for Healthy School Food has 3 major pilot projects. Learn about what we are doing so you can see what is possible.
Schools are the place where students go to learn, and part of what they learn about, at least in certain grades, is nutrition. While what they are taught about nutrition is influenced by the food industry, and is therefore less than ideal, it is at least far better than how most American’s are eating these days.
When schools offer foods and beverages that are inconsistent with what students are being taught, the hypocrisy is not lost on students. Schools act “in loco parentis” (in place of parents) and when children pass through the front doors of a school, parents expect that their child will be cared for and protected while they are at school.
The school food environment is a microcosm of the food environment in our society, and it contributes not just to obesity, but also to setting children up for heart disease, cancer, type 2 diabetes, behavioral problems, and poor health regardless of whether the student is overweight or not.
School food service operations often say that students are their customers and they have to give them what they want. But as our advisory board member Joel Fuhrman, MD, says, many students want alcohol, cigarettes, and cocaine, but we don’t give them that. Never mind that these substances are illegal for children and/or adults, far more people are suffering ill health as a result of the standard American diet (SAD) than they are from drugs.
Yet schools often insist on providing “choice” and that choice often involves mostly unhealthy food with the occasional healthy option.
The problem with this is that 66% of adults are either overweight or obese (33% and 33%, respectively), and so if most adults can’t even make the right decisions, how is it that we can expect our children to do so? NYCHSF strongly believes that all choices in school should be healthy choices, and that schools have no obligation to offer foods that contribute to disease and poor health.
It is a free country and students and/or their parents can decide what they eat outside of school. But schools, as a place of learning, should set a good example. If you want to create change in your school, read the rest of this page and then if you still have questions and need guidance, please contact us.
Whether you are a student, parent, teacher, school nurse, food service director, school administrator, board member, or interested community member such as a Registered Dietitian, Medical Doctor, Nurse, or someone who simply cares about what our kids are eating in school, it’s obvious to you that your school needs help. The question is where to start. Here then are some basics to give you an understanding to help you determine how you can best help to create change.
FEDERALLY MANDATED WELLNESS POLICIES
In the Child Nutrition and WIC (Women, Infants, Children) Reauthorization Act of 2004, any school participating in the federal school meal program was mandated to create a wellness policy that:
- Creates goals for nutrition education
- Creates goals for physical activity
- Creates goals for other school based activities designed to promote student wellness
- Creates guidelines for all foods available on the school campus during the school day to promote student health and reduce obesity
- Assures that guidelines for school meals are not less restrictive than is required by the federal school meals programs
- Establishes a plan for measuring implementation of the policy that designates at least one person to be sure the school is meeting the policy
- Involves parents, students, representatives of the school food authority, the school board, school administrators, and the public in the development of the school wellness policy.
Unfortunately, this policy creates tens or hundreds of thousands of hours of work for many parents, teachers, and school administrators all across the country, when a good law could eliminate the need for all of this work. By creating this law, the federal government appears to be promoting school wellness, while at the same time not angering the food industry.
Many schools have not succeeded in implementing the goals of the policy, and many schools have “implemented” policies that are effectively just a piece of paper. Others have spent countless hours haggling over how many grams of fat can be in a la carte foods, or how many different a la carte items should be sold each day.
If you would like to see your schools wellness policy, you can check with the superintendent’s office to see how you can get a copy. To see the New York City Wellness Policy, click here.
Model Wellness Policies
SCHOOL FOOD ENVIRONMENT
The school food environment is far more than just lunches, it includes:
- A la carte foods in the cafeteria
- Vending machines
- School stores
- Class parties
- The use of food as a reward
- Bake sales
- The sale of candy and/or cookies as a fundraiser (with much of those foods sold to students during the school day)
- Encouraging students to bring in box tops and labels from unhealthy foods for fundraising purposes
Road Blocks to Change
School meals operate in a system which is unfair to both the children and the food service directors:
- Not enough funding, only about 90 cents food cost per lunch meal (the rest goes to overhead and labor)
- Of that 90 cents, 20 cents is in the form of commodity foods
- The most common commodity foods in NYS are beef, chicken, cheese, and white potato products
- Regulations which make serving healthier food difficult
- “Competitive foods” (all foods other than school meals) that compete with the meals
What Factors Determine Whether Meaningful Change Occurs?
There are just a few factors that determine whether or not successful change occurs in a school district:
- School administrators and/or school board members who want and/or will allow change
- A group of parents, students, and/or teachers who are willing to create change
- A food service director who wants to create change
- The entire school food environment is addressed, not just school breakfasts and lunches
School Food 101
You can learn more of the details about school food by reading School Food 101. If it is your goal to get involved to change the school food environment, please read this article first.
WHAT TO CHANGE
We feel that all school food should be health-supporting and disease-preventing. But that is not the reality today. Since most schools take incremental steps to improving, here are the top steps we recommend to improve foods in school:
- Get a salad bar, and stock it with dark green lettuces, vegetable/legume/whole grain “salads”, and loads of fresh vegetables and fruits. Be sure that dressings are all-natural
(no artificial ingredients). There is nothing like 400 calories of manufactured salad dressing full of artificial ingredients to ruin 40 calories worth of vegetables.
- Offer a whole-foods, plant-based entrée each day as a healthy option.
- Offer greens, such as broccoli, bok choy, kale, collards, on the menu every day. Of course, offer other colors of vegetables as well.
- Remove any deep fried or highly processed items, such as chicken nuggets, mozzarella sticks, and typical pizza.
- Remove typical à la carte offerings which usually consist of: cookies, chips, sports drinks, and ice cream.
- Offer à la carte offerings that support good health, such as assorted berry bowls, peanut or other nut butter spread banana
rolled in granola, then frozen on a stick, tropical fruit medley, a healthy trail mix (leave out fruits that are treated with sulfate sor contain sugar, leave out nuts that are salted, sugared or roasted in oil)
- Provide students the ability to wash their hands before eating
- Provide a meal period that enables students to have at least ½ hour after they sit down to eat. We believe this would require at 45 minute lunch period.
- Lunch periods should be schedule no earlier than 11 am
and no later than 1 pm, and students should be accommodated with healthy fruit and vegetable snacks in cases where their lunch is earlier or later.
The Rest of the School
- Eliminate the use of food as rewards.
- Eliminate food for classroom parties. One elementary school on
Long Island surveyed the students and found that virtually every student preferred extra recess to a party with food.
- Eliminate the sale of unhealthy food as a fundraiser. This
includes sales of candy bars, cookies, pizza, etc, and often while these sales are supposed to occur outside of school, the primary purchasers are students in school. This also includes bake sales.
- Eliminate vending machines, or at least ensure that they contain
only healthy food. The problem is that most of what vending companies consider healthy really isn’t, and students end up with a machine full of false promises.
- Offer fresh fruits and vegetables to students in the classroom each day, for free.
- Use our Wellness Wakeup Call Program. This is nutrition education in the form of easy-to-digest sound bites that are
read over the loud speaker each morning. If your school doesn’t have morning announcements, they can be read in class each day. This program takes half a minute per day or less.
- We feel that the sale of foods in school outside of the meal
program is also an equity issue. Whether it is à la carte sales, vending machine sales, bake sales, or other fundraising sales
in which students can purchase and consume food at school, there are students who do not have the funds to participate and
thus it creates an unjust and visible divide between those who have money and those who do not. Unfortunately, it is the
reality that many schools depend on these funding streams and are not going to stop selling these foods. At least in these
situations, the food sold should be nutrient-dense, health supporting, and disease-preventing, and they should have
a fund for children who desire these health supporting foods but can not afford them. All food available in schools should be health-supporting.
IT'S UP TO YOU!
The school food situation is complex, but changes can be made. When there is a will, there is a way! Just look at what we have done in our pilot programs and what Ann Cooper has done in Berkeley, California. Good luck, and don’t forget to contact us if you need additional assistance.