All of us at one point or another have been frustrated, disappointed, angry, or disillusioned (well you name it, the list goes on) by our school lunch programs or the snacks/rewards provided to our children by teachers and staff. I certainly know I have. While I grumble to my husband and friends often, it wasn’t until last year that I started trying to take action by joining our school’s health team. At our first meeting I came out strong with all these ideas that, to be quite honest, were not met with much support. So, off I went feeling very discouraged. But, I didn’t go away. Over the summer I found out about an event that was held at another area elementary school the year before. The event, Food Day, seemed like a great one to bring to our school and the perfect stepping stone to hopefully effect change down the road. So, that’s just what we did, with the help of our amazing and very supportive principal. Food Day was celebrated across the country earlier this month and I would love to share our event with you.
What is Food Day?
Food Day is a nationwide celebration and a movement for healthy, affordable, and sustainable food. Or, more simply put and as stated on the Food Day website, “It’s time for America to eat real.” So, how do you celebrate such a big topic with almost 800 elementary school children? The beauty of Food Day is that you can celebrate it any way you like. For example, you could teach a cooking class to adults using only “real” local ingredients or organize a vegetable identification contest in your child’s school. The possibilities are endless.
How is Our Elementary School Celebrating Food Day?
We’ve chosen to celebrate Food Day as more than just a one day event by expanding it into a series over the course of the school year. Our kickoff event was held on October 17th with an assembly for the teachers and students. The assembly included a guest speaker with a background in exercise physiology and experience as a professional speaker and wellness consultant. We also had a representative from our new Whole Foods Market on hand and a certified personal trainer to discuss the importance of exercise and physical activity.
Our guest speaker could not have been better suited for a group of young children. She brought many visual aids to help the children not only hear but also see the information she was sharing with them. For example, she held up a five pound bag of sugar and asked the students if they knew what it was. After they recognized it, she then went on to say that it was the amount of sugar the average American child consumes in one month! WOW! I was even shocked by that statistic which looks much worse when you are staring at it in one big bag. Even the students let out a long gasp. Some other key points she made throughout her presentation included the following:
- Eat things that don’t come in a package.
- Foods in a package often contain advertising and/or cartoons to make them more appealing to children, so avoid foods with advertising/cartoons.
- Foods are often marketed to be “healthy” but you may be surprised to see how much sugar, artificial ingredients, etc. they contain (the example she gave was a small container of yogurt).
- You will not replace the nutritional content of eating an apple simply by taking a vitamin. She showed them visually again how many more nutrients are contained in an apple than in a vitamin.
She ended her presentation by asking the children to close their eyes and visualize the nicest, shiniest, newest car they could imagine. She then told them to think of themselves pulling into a gas station with that car and pulling up to the pump and filling it with muddy water. Well, you can imagine the “eeews” and “yucks” that came from the audience. She then explained to them that that’s how your body feels when you fill it up with foods that aren’t “real” or “whole.” It was quite an effective picture she painted for them.
Our Whole Foods representative went on to discuss choosing healthy snacks and trying to focus on eating the rainbow of foods. Our assembly closed with a fun activity by a personal trainer who focused on the importance of physical activity but also discussed that you can play sports even if you are not part of a team or have the right equipment. Overall, it was a great presentation to both the students and teachers, and we have heard positive feedback in terms of the parents telling us that their children came home talking about it (which was a very big part of our overall goal).
Where Do We Go From Here?
Our focus for the remainder of this school year is to educate our students using the Food Day School Curriculum program. It includes five lessons that will be taught by parent volunteers in each classroom. The lessons focus on eating real food, mostly plants, not too much, navigating the environment and being an advocate. I hope to share more on this at a later date once we’ve completed a few lessons.
Beyond Food Day
So, back to my original story. What does this all mean going forward? I know the two things I would like to see changed in our school are birthday celebrations and food rewards in the classroom. It is frustrating to me that food is provided to my children by someone other than myself. If a child has a food allergy or is a diabetic, for example, much caution would be exercised in providing food to that child. But, in the absence of either one, there is no hesitation to provide candy, a cookie, or cake to children in our school, and sometimes even more than one in a single day. I would like to see a change in policy where birthday celebrations do not include food and rewards are not permitted to be in the form of food.
So, how will we get there? My hope is that by educating the students (and possibly the parents a little through their children) we can now move forward with some of these changes. We are also looking into providing some opportunities for the parents to come and attend a similar presentation like the one their children attended. Our health team is moving forward and has recently formed a committee that includes parents, teachers, and administrators to begin assessing our current food policies. I hope to have an update on our progress as we near the end of the school year.
In the mean time, I’m reminding myself to be PATIENT! I saw this quote, which I found to be quite fitting: “Patience, persistence and perspiration make an unbeatable combination for success” (Napoleon Hill). I’m hoping all three will pay off and we will be successful in achieving change in our schools.