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This story was originally featured on the JamieOliver Food Revolution website
We all know the importance of living a healthy lifestyle but sometimes it is easier said than done.
This is particularly true for schools where budget constraints or limited resources often clash with costly wellness programs and healthy food initiatives. It can be a daunting task, especially when the ultimate goal seems so far away.
As a mom of three school aged children, I am all too aware of the obstacles. I am also proof that despite it all, a successful Healthy Lifestyles program at your school is still possible.
I know because I Chair one at a K-5 public school in Williamsburg Virginia.
What started with a few steps in 2011 has since become a model for not only our community, but healthy school initiatives everywhere.
Along with the support of school, PTA and some occasional volunteers, the Healthy Lifestyles Committee was able to successfully operate a Farm to School Local Produce Initiative, healthy food sampling, chef demonstrations, healthy lifestyle events and programs, an awards program and more. We find the school newsletter and flyers are helpful in finding volunteers, but more often we find ourselves turning to Twitter, Facebook, and our own PTA website to spread the word. Sign Up Genius is also a helpful and free service that will allow you to find and organize volunteers.
Assembling a list of like-minded parents, teachers and community members who are willing to help is great way to assure your success. You will likely find people who are just as passionate as you about the health and wellness of children at your school. It doesn’t take an army – just a few, passionate supporters will do.
There is no one size fits all approach.
Some schools will benefit from emphasis on physical activity or exercise programs. Others want focus on school lunches. While you are probably tempted to do it all, it is best to start small with the issues most important to your school. At Matoaka, we did this by creating a cafeteria task force responsible for discovering the needs of our school community. Using a free survey tool (found on the Internet), a questionnaire was constructed to find out what parents thought about school lunches and snacks. Approximately 55% of our families participated and the results were very clear: 92% of those surveyed wanted a Local Produce Initiative and 61% were willing to support in financially.
Ideas For Your Healthy Lifestyles Program
After the Cafeteria Task Force survey, the Matoaka PTA immediately went to work to form a Healthy Lifestyle Committee. They met to discuss how they would begin to implement their ideas and where funding would come from for them. Luckily for us, Matoaka already had a strong PTA in place with excellent fundraisers such as the annual school Walk-A-Thon, the Harvest Festival and others. During our first year we were able to create and manage the following programs:
• Start a Farm to School or Locally Grown Produce Initiative.
Our first task at hand was to set up a Farm to School program. We selected a local farm who could deliver enough produce to cover the approximately 700 children at our school plus extra for staff and sampling. This involved the support of not only the PTA but also our school Principal and Williamsburg James City County School Child & Nutrition Services. Our committee also worked with the cafeteria staff to coordinate the deliveries and decide on a dish for the children using the local produce. Considering PTA funds and logistics, we decided to feature local produce on the school lunch line on selected Thursdays to coincide with days when pizza was offered as the main entry. Not only do more children purchase a school lunch on “pizza day” but the cafeteria staff have less prep work therefore giving them more time to work with our local produce.
The Healthy Lifestyles Committee was on hand in the cafeteria to encouraged the children to select the fresh vegetable. This also gave us the opportunity to talk with the children about not only healthy eating habits but also gardening and even farming and our local community.
Our first offering was spaghetti squash which was prepared with a light marina sauce. Most of the children had never seen spaghetti squash before but were intrigued since it so closely resembles pasta. We created a lot of new squash lovers that day and were absolutely thrilled with the success of our first event. In the months to come we offered asparagus, sweet potatoes and even kale, just to name a few.
• Host a Healthy Lifestyles Week/Month
The National PTA created Healthy Lifestyles Month where throughout the month of November, they encourage schools and families to organize or participate in programs that promote health and wellness. At our school, the Healthy Lifestyle Committee along with our Wellness Council dedicates a full week in November to healthy events and activities that include classroom cooking demonstrations, local produce tasting, “Fitness Minutes” and visits from the OrganWise Guys and more.
• Create An Awards System
Our Healthy Lifestyles Committee was looking for a way to encourage healthy behavior without regulating choices. We wanted to honor those at our school who were doing great things with the hopes that others would take notice and do the same. From this, the Matoaka GOLDEN APPLE AWARD was born. Throughout the year, Michelle and I seek out nominations of those who are “caught being healthy.” Then, three times a year we surprise the winners with certificate and visit from our school mascot. Awards have been given to teachers who have healthy snack ideas or classroom activities, parents who make healthy treats for class birthday parties (instead of cupcakes!), and staff members who have helped with everything from Running Clubs to Zumba classes.
• Introduce a Healthy Snack Initiative
In an effort to decrease sugary treats at school (such as birthday cupcakes and class party cookies), a healthy snack initative was created. Throughout the year, we promote healthy options whenever possible at all school events and celebrations. For instance, we encouraged the Dad’s Club to switch their annual “Dad’s and Donuts” breakfast to “Dad’s and Bagels.” Our school movie nights now sell fun fruit creations and homemade smoothies instead of candy and chips. This initiative calls on all of our parents, teachers and PTA members to be conscience of the message they are sending to kids through our many school functions. Even our ice cream socials now offer a fruit topping bar instead of candy and cookies, proving that there are always options for healthier alternatives – even at an ice cream party.
• Began a Healthy Recipe Book
Working together with our school Wellness Council, the PTA and SHIP, our Healthy Lifestyles Committee is collecting recipes from school families that focus on healthy school lunches from home, nutritious and fun snacks, and alternative celebration ideas. Families can send recipes in with their child, via email or submit them on our PTA website.
• Create A School Garden
A school garden, which can serve as a beautiful outdoor classroom, is a great way to reinforce your school’s commitment to healthy lifestyles. Getting teachers and students involved in planting and harvesting will not only help with upkeep but will also provide numerous learning opportunities in the areas of not only nutrition but also geography, science, math – even the seasons! Another great idea is to have school families “adopt” the garden over the summer allowing them to keep the harvest in exchange for their work.
• Host Annual Healthy School Events.
With the help of a dedicated staff and PTA, Matoaka sponsors a variety of events that focus on wellness, fitness and healthy lifestyles including an annual ‘Walk a Thon’, a family fitness night and staff verses parents games.
This year we hope to streamline our programs including our Local Produce Initiative. We are beginning to consider how we might influence school constitutes to adopt a healthy lifestyles policy or improve school lunch. But more importantly we hope to further our reach in the community by sharing our know-how with other schools and PTA committees.
Our experience has shown that, regardless of funds, resources or experience, a small group of dedicated individuals can work together to make a positive impact on the health and wellness of children.
If you are looking to raise funds for your school, a Walk-a-thon is a great and easy way to raise money while also having fun and encouraging health and wellness.
On average, a school of approximately 700 K-5 students can expect to earn $8,000 to $20,000 from a well managed Walkathon, with very little overhead other than a substanial volunteer effort. Depending on the size of your school, you should plan on having at least 3 or 4 people responsible for planning and organizing, and then an additional 8-12 people the day of the event.
Most walkathons work by having students solicit pledges of financial support based on the number of “laps” that they do. This method works fine, but an easier way is to simply have students ask for flat pledges regardless of laps.
1. Pick A Date
Check with your school to find out what date works best and does not interfere with other school activities and events. Consider the weather and day of the week. For instance, you might be able to get more volunteers on a Friday as compared to a Monday. Think about the typical weather for your area and try to pick a time of the year when it is not too hot or too cold. In Virginia, October or April is a great time of the year. But be aware that in the fall there are usually a lot of other fundraisers going on so you might have a difficult time getting business sponsorships and donations that time of year. With that said – we’ve always had great success with October events.
2. Pick A Theme
Make your walkathon more exciting by organizing it around a theme every year. Our school walkathons have had a “cowboy / wild West” theme, the Wizard of Oz, “space” theme, and many others. Your day-of-event volunteers will dress in costumes based on your theme and, if appropriate, the students can dress for the theme too. For instance, our students wore cowboy hats for our Wild West theme.
3. Get Donations and Sponsors
In order to get the kids excited, it is a great idea to offer walkathon prizes to top fundraisers, top classroom participation and top classroom earners. Our school offers prizes for each grade level. These prizes have included an iPod, iPad Mini, a Nook, plus gift certificates for frozen yogurt, laser tag, bowling, movie tickets and much more.
Not all of your prizes need to be donated by business though! One of our most sought after prizes is “Principal For A Day” where one lucky student gets the opportunity to shadow the school principal for a day – performing all job duties along his or her side! Other ideas include PTA sponsored parties. For instance, one prize might be a class pizza party where all students get to enjoy a pizza lunch in the classroom or an ice cream party after school.
4. Spread The News
You’ll need to make pledge sheets and flyers to hand out to your school community. If there is space at your school, create a bulletin board to advertise the event. Be sure to include pictures of the prizes to generate excitement! Facebook and Twitter are fantastic (and free!) marketing tools that can help too. Create an “event” on Facebook for your Walkathon – or, you can create a “page” just for your Walkathon. Our school also has a PTA website that makes it easy to advertise the event and collect money. Besides cash and checks, we are able to use online payment processing via our website and Paypal. The more payment options you can offer, the more money you will make for your school!
You will also need to create a Walkathon template letter that students can give to their friends and family asking for support and pledges. Feel free to use the walkathon template letter below.
If you need help, contact me!
I’m glad to give you some pointers on what has worked for us. I’d love to hear your ideas too – comment on this post.
Be sure to let me know how your event turns out.
SAMPLE WALK-A-THON TEMPLATE LETTER
I am writing to ask your support for a very big event at my school, (NAME OF SCHOOL).
On (DATE OF EVENT), we will have our annual Walk-a-Thon to help raise money for the PTA and school programs. It’s our biggest fundraiser and the money really does a lot for all of the students at (NAME OF SCHOOL). Instead of selling things, we collect pledge money for our participation in the Walk-a-Thon and every student gets to participate!
This year our goal is (DOLLAR AMOUNT OF SCHOOL GOAL). The money will help the PTA continue to provide many fun and educational programs and events for me and my classmates that we wouldn’t otherwise have such as (LIST TWO OR THREE PROGRAMS OR EVENTS).
Would you please consider a donation to support me walking on (DATE OF WALKATHON)?
You can send cash or checks, or submit your pledge online (GIVE LINK IF APPLICABLE)
Thank you so much for your support of my school!
Guess what? When schools improve meals – positive results follow.
Despite the negative press from a few anti-nutrition Tea-Party types, the new school nutrition standards are beginning to have an impact. Just refer to the recently published U.S. Department of Agriculture report showing that, in just one year since more stringent school nutrition standards were introduced, more than 80 percent of schools are now offering healthier meals and are in full compliance with the regulations. Many states have 100 percent compliance, and less than 2 percent opted out of the program nationwide.
These are impressive numbers, especially considering the cost of fresh produce for some school districts.
Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act
As you probably know, the National School Lunch Program reimburses or subsidizes schools for the food they serve to the millions of students across the country each day. In order to qualify under the program, schools must follow the nutritional standards set forth by the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). Part of these new guidelines include the requirement for more fresh fruits and vegetables in school meals. When the program was first implemented at the beginning of the 2012-2013 school year there was backlash from conservative groups and some parents who complained that kids were still hungry. However, in the year that the program has been in place, those complaints have mostly disappeared.
Yes, the new standards do limit calories and lower sodium levels, so some students who were accustomed to large plates of greasy fries had to adjust. On the other hand, the new standards also allow students to have as many fruits and vegetables as they want. That’s right- they can ask for more, which pretty much ends the argument that kids are still “hungry” after lunch. (Hungry for processed cheese covered, greasy nachos perhaps, but not real food).
While it is true, some school districts did opt out of the HHFKA, the reasons they did might surprise you. According to Kevin Concannon, secretary of food, nutrition and consumer services at the U.S. Department of Agriculture, “There are 100,000 American schools that are part of the program, and about 540 schools that dropped out of the program; less than half cited the new requirements as the reason.”
In light of the success of the program, it appears that all that fuss last year was much ado about nothing. Schools are reporting that they no longer receive emails or phone calls complaining about all the vegetables on the lunch line, and many districts are beginning to see an INCREASE in lunch revenue as students find they are enjoying the improved quality of the new menu options.
Next: Ala carte and Vending Machines
Of particular interest to me is the next stage of the program where the ala carte menu and vending machines will be required to meet standards too. This means complying with a “smart snack” policy that limits sugar and sodium for all those “extra” items that are not part of the school lunch program. These items are a cash cow for many schools so there will certainly be some reluctancy to comply. But, in the end, demanding our schools provide a happy and HEALTHY environment for our children is not a “crazy, food Nazi” idea – it is a smart one.
Who would’ve thought that making school meals healthier would receive so much pushback? In our sugar and fat, “Double Down” chicken burger obsessed society, what’s wrong with a little attempt to provide healthier meals to children during the school day? You are still free to load them up with donuts at home, you know, on your own time and dime.
School should be the place to expand your mind, not your waistline, or worse – your chance of heart attack, stroke and early death, so I am hopeful that the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act will continue to make strides.
“As First Lady, this isn’t just a policy issue for me. This is a passion. This is my mission. I am determined to work with folks across this country to change the way a generation of kids thinks about food and nutrition.”
- First Lady Michelle Obama
Let’s Move! is an initiative that was launched by the First Lady, Michelle Obama. This wonderful program and blog is focused on getting kids moving and eating right, and includes the first ever task force on obesity. I am very honored to be featured as Lets Move! is one of my favorite resources, both for schools and parents.
I’ve seen criticism by some that the Let’s Move! campaign is too much government overstep into the personal lives and choices of parents, but this is absolutely not the case. Would anyone accuse the work done by the American Heart Association of overstepping? Unfortunately, politics often gets in the way of an otherwise great message: eat better, exercise more.
Thanks to the Let’s Move! initiative, Disney and the Department of Defense announced they would make changes to their nutritional standards, and through the partnership with the HealthierUS School Challenge, more than 5,000 schools now have improved fitness and nutritional standards.
So, Let’s Put Politics Aside! and just appreciate the services, education, resources and improvements that are available thanks to this excellent program. Let’s Get Real! and realize that childhood obesity is serious problem. And while we are at it, Let’s Stop Whining! If you don’t want to follow the guidelines or access the information or participate in the program, then don’t. Although, I suspect if you are someone against improved health guidelines then you are here by mistake anyway.
For the rest of you, check out the resources available from Let’s Move! Start with the Simple Steps for Success if you are looking to make improvements at your school.
Are you looking to improve nutrition and get rid of junk food at your child’s school? As the Chair of a Healthy Lifestyle Committee I can tell you that it is no easy task. However, if you find other like-minded and dedicated parents you can create small victories.
Our program was recently featured in the Virginia Gazette . “Healthy Eating Takes Root At Matoaka” by Susan Robertson published Nov 3, 2012. The original article is posted below:
Healthy Eating Takes Root At Matoaka
– Subtle suggestions and healthier options have changed the eating culture at Matoaka Elementary. Other WJC schools are following suit. Matoaka has gained national attention for promoting a healthy lifestyle with recent plugs on Chef Jamie Oliver’s blog, the USDA Department of Agriculture blog and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” blog.
The key is subtlety. Matoaka’s PTA and administration have partnered to make healthy foods a choice in the cafeteria and at school events without forcing everyone to eat their broccoli. Principal Andy Jacobs does not want proponents to be misconstrued as the “cupcake police.”
“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said PTA member Michelle Alexander. “Anything we can do here at Matoaka to do that, we are willing to do.”
The effort started in 2010 when Christian Dunn of the PTA set out to change the food being served at events. She also started the school’s Healthy Lifestyles Week every November during the National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month. Last year the PTA created a cafeteria task force to add healthy items on the lunch menu, based on a survey to parents. “You have to do it,” said PTA member Tryna Fitzpatrick. “You have to get an idea of what your community is looking for.” 97% of respondents called for expanding the local produce program. More notable was that 60% were willing to financially underwrite fresh produce at school.
This year Matoaka partnered with Kelrae Farm, which delivers twice a month. WJC Child Nutrition Services covers the base cost, according to Alexander, and the PTA picks up the difference and pays delivery charges. She said Child Nutrition Services is now working to get fresh produce into other WJC schools once a month. They’ve suggested that the schools appoint healthy lifestyles coordinators to follow Matoaka’s lead.
Besides more fresh veggies and fruit in the cafeteria, Matoaka is also working to change the school culture by retooling events and banish unhealthy habits. Jacobs said they’ve traded “Donuts with Dads” for a less catchy “Bagels and Fruit with Dads.” Fruit topping has taken the place of sprinkles at the ice cream social. The PTA sent home fliers encouraging parents to attach a non-food gift (or nothing) to valentines in lieu of candy. Golden Apple Awards are also handed out to reward healthy behaviors.
Efforts to make fitness a priority have also eliminated loss of recess as a punishment. Instead, teachers are taking away the choice and assigning a recess activity like running laps. The school’s garden is still too small to feed everyone, but Fitzpatrick said they are working to expand.
Matoaka Elementary School isn’t the biggest school, or the oldest. But it does have a Parent Teacher Association that takes student health very seriously. So seriously, in fact, that one committee is completely devoted to helping kids and families develop Healthy Lifestyles!
“There were a few PTA parents who started talking about how our school could be healthier,” said Tryna Fitzpatrick, “and we decided to survey families and find out what other parents were thinking.”
The results were surprising- 92% of those who completed the survey wanted a healthier school environment- and felt so strongly that they were willing to contribute in one way or another to make it happen! And the Healthy Lifestyle Committee was born. Chaired by Tryna and Michelle Alexander, the campaign began leading the way with small changes and positive examples. The Golden Apple Award, for example, is presented to teachers and parents who are “caught being healthy.”
“Last year one of our Kindergarten teachers decided to change up the menu for the Valentine’s Day Party- but she did it in such a positive way that no one felt deprived,” said Fitzpatrick. “It was a beautiful party full of healthy red, white, and pink foods- things the kids love, like strawberries and yogurt. The kids had a great time. No one had a chance to miss cupcakes!”
One thoughtful parent award-winner was looking for a way to thank hard working teachers. She developed an after-school exercise program conveniently located and timed so that staff could participate before leaving the school building. Yet another parent manages the school garden. In the fall and spring, kindergarten students plant vegetables, harvest them, and enjoy a salad party. School families care for the garden over the summer, one week at a time.
Small efforts have continued to grow.
“We’re really excited about our Local Food Initiative,” says Tryna. “It required the cooperation of the county, school board, principal, and parents- it’s a big production.”
A local farm, Kelrae, provides high-quality seasonal produce 2-3 times a month for use in school meals. So far, sweet potatoes, broccoli, and asparagus have all been popular offerings. Locally grown red potatoes are next up on the menu this year.
Once there was bad weather and the vegetable the cafeteria staff had planned to use wasn’t available. Kelrae was able to provide them with kale, instead. The cafeteria staff made crunchy kale chips, which the kids loved!
“Without everyone’s efforts none of this would be possible,” says Tryna. “But we know from our personal experience that working together can produce great things!”
Find out how you can help introduce more fruits and veggies to schools in your area by visiting our Healthier School Day web site. Continue to check back here on USDA’s blog as we continue to share stories that highlight how USDA and schools across the country are working to make school days healthier for students.
School Bites is one of my favorite healthy kids blog. Recently, they interviewed us and featured it on the blog here. The copy is included below but I highly recommend that you visit School Bites. There is some great information there to help you improve the nutrition and standards at your school. Check it out.
Q&A with Matoaka Elementary (A Real-life Success Story!)
Improving school food: Yes, it can be an uphill battle! So when someone succeeds in making positive changes, I can’t help but wonder: How the heck did they do it?!? A few weeks ago, I wrote about the very impressive activities of the Healthy Lifestyles Committee at Matoaka Elementary School in Williamsburg, Va. Under the leadership of two passionate, health-conscious moms—Michelle Alexander and Tryna Fitzpatrick—the committee has had great success in encouraging healthier habits throughout the school.
Beginning with the 2011–2012 school year, the Matoaka Healthy Lifestyle Committee has been helping to implement the school district’s Locally Grown Produce Initiative, for example. The initiative involves creating cafeteria dishes using fresh kale, squash, sweet potatoes, asparagus and other produce grown on a nearby farm. Students get an opportunity to sample the produce as they wait in line to buy lunch.
The Healthy Lifestyle Golden Apple Awards, Matoaka Healthy Recipe Idea Book, and back-to-school night cafeteria tours are some of the other ways that the committee is working to change the status quo for the health of the students–and the staff!
What I love most about the committee’s programs is how positive they all are! No cupcake bans or other restrictions for this school. Instead, they are getting the message across in a healthy, constructive way. To find out exactly how it all came to be, I caught up with Michelle and Tryna, the two super-moms at the center of it all.
How did you manage to get the Healthy Lifestyles Committee started?
M.A.: In 2006, the Williamsburg Community Health Foundation awarded a $2.5 million grant to plan, implement and evaluate a Comprehensive Wellness Program for the entire school division. Part of this grant involved each school having a Wellness Council to implement healthy changes in the school and promote healthy programs around nutrition and physical activity. Since being formed 5 years ago, the Matoaka Elementary Wellness Council has been very active and the school principal, Andy Jacobs, has always been supportive of healthy lifestyles. So, when our Parent Teacher Association (P.T.A.) decided to create the Healthy Lifestyles Committee*, there was already a lot of backing from school administration and staff. We just had to get the parents on board!
In its first year of existence (2012–2011), committee founder Christian Dunn, a Matoaka parent, did a wonderful job with this. She worked with all the P.T.A. committees to make sure that we were supporting Healthy Lifestyles through all our events, programs and fundraisers. She also created our first annual Healthy Lifestyles Week. That year, I was a member of the Healthy Lifestyles Committee, as well as a member of the Cafeteria Task Force. At the end of the school year, Christian asked Tryna and I if we would co-chair the committee, and we agreed. We are going to head up the committee next year as well.
The National PTA created Healthy Lifestyles Month to help encourage child wellness in schools. On its website, you can find a Healthy Lifestyles Promotional Toolkit, information on its Healthy Lifestyles Grant, and ideas for how local P.T.A. groups can form these committees in their schools.
What have been your biggest obstacles?
T.F.: One of our biggest obstacles is planning and managing the farm and the growing season with the school and cafeteria staff for the Locally Grown Produce Initiative. For instance, the weather and growing conditions made a scheduled broccoli delivery impossible, so kale was substituted. This required the cafeteria staff to alter their recipe and prep work, and for us to change our sampling procedures.
M.A.: In regards to the Locally Grown Produce Initiative, the major obstacles are logistics. Bringing in all of that local produce requires a lot of time and preparation on the part of our cafeteria staff, in addition to everything they already have to do. Fortunately, our cafeteria manager has been wonderful and very open to new ideas. She also has been willing to try cooking the produce in a different way. Earlier this spring, for example, she made Kale Chips, which took some additional effort, but the kids loved it!
We started out using parent volunteers to provide samples of the “produce of the day” to the kids coming through the cafeteria line. This worked well, but we recognized that we were only getting the kids that were actually buying lunch. Next year, we are hoping to provide samples to all the students via their classrooms the day before the produce is being served in the cafeteria. This may encourage more kids to buy and, at the very least, it gives all students a chance to sample the veggies. This will obviously take a lot more effort on our part, but we are willing to give it a go and the principal is on board with it as well!
Parents can be protective of their cupcakes. Did you experience any resistance to your proposed programs?
T.F.: I wouldn’t necessarily call it “resistance” as we have set no mandates. Our offerings are optional or suggested recommendations. We have not attempted to change school policy (yet!). Everyone has been very receptive to the cafeteria samplings and local produce offerings. However, if a parent or student is not interested in trying a new healthy food item or selecting that item for their lunch, that is okay.
Our work involves more of the idea of setting a good example, offering healthy alternatives, and providing information so that our families can make the choice that is right for them. We’ve had tremendous support from the P.T.A. and the school administration so this makes it easier to spread the Healthy Lifestyles message and gather support for our programs.
We are still working on reducing the cupcakes and other sweet treats that are offered as celebrations at school (such as for birthdays, holidays or good deeds). Our Golden Apple Awards** are a big part of this effort as they allow us to highlight parents and teachers who are setting good examples. This way we can highlight the positive choices without limiting them.
**Golden Apple Awards are given to teachers, staff, parents and others by the Healthy Lifestyles Committee. We seek nominations and award those who are setting a good example by making healthy choices, whether it be exercise, healthy eating, etc. The award includes a certificate to hang and a gift bag. For example, we have given the award to the cafeteria staff for all of their help and support of Local Produce Day; staff members who brought ZUMBA to the school; parents who offered a unique or creative healthy alternative to birthday cupcakes; and teachers who have supported our efforts by having ‘healthy’ classroom celebrations—just to name a few!
How have the kids responded to the changes?
T.F.: Michelle and I have been DELIGHTED with the feedback from the kids! Many of them are excited to try new, healthy dishes and learn about healthy alternatives. So often, my presence in the cafeteria on Local Produce Day has led to discussions with the children about what vegetables they like or don’t like, what they know about gardening, or even what exercise activities they enjoy.
Just having this dialogue is not only fun (for them and us!) but also provides the opportunity to reinforce healthy alternatives and behavior. And, I love it when the kids recognize me at the school or even out in town as “the healthy food tasting lady!” Even children who may not be receptive to our cafeteria healthy food sample at first will often change their mind after they see their friends try it or hear their classmates discuss it. This positive peer influence is a great way to encourage the kids without pressuring them.
Other than the school cafeteria survey, did you solicit any feedback from parents and teachers before implementing the changes?
M.A.: We did not have any more formal feedback, but anecdotal comments, feedback and ideas helped us to make some decisions about the Local Produce Program. Through the grant mentioned earlier, Matoaka had been doing Farm to School activities during Farm to School Week in the fall. This was coordinated by the registered dietitian that works on the grant. We decided to try and expand to provide the Farm to School activities year round. It has been a pretty big success and well received by teachers, students and parents.
Why do you think the Healthy Lifestyles campaign has been so successful?
T.F.: The support of the parents, staff, P.T.A. and school administration, including Principal Jacobs, has been key. From P.T.A. members volunteering on local produce sample day to teachers helping to promote our programs to cafeteria staff being willing to put in extra work to make our sample day possible–we couldn’t possibly do it without them! I also believe that our parents are highly receptive to the idea, at least based on what we saw from the results of our survey. Many are open to the idea of healthier options in the cafeteria and are therefore willing to support our efforts in a variety of ways.
I heard that your school district has asked the other elementary schools to start Healthy Lifestyles Committees, too…?
T.F.: Yes. The Williamsburg James City County has a School Health Initiative Program(SHIP), which has done a lot of work in promoting the Healthy Lifestyles idea to the schools in our district. Many of them are interested in hearing from Matoaka and specifically our Healthy Lifestyles Committee. Click here to read more about SHIP.
What’s your advice to other parents interested in making healthy changes at their school?
T.F.: Work with your P.T.A. and school administration to determine the level of interest and then start small. Find out the biggest concerns at your school. (Lunch quality? Candy/cupcakes? Physical activity? Creating a school garden?). Form a list of parents who would be interested in donating their time to the program. You might create a Healthy Lifestyles event with chef demonstrations or a Healthy Celebration initiative that offers examples of alternatives to birthday cupcakes. Small contributions can make a big difference that will lead to significant changes at your school.
For more info about Mataoka’s amazing Healthy Lifestyles Committee, check out the committee’s webpage.