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How to start a Healthy Lifestyles program at your school

improved school lunch healthy hunger free kids act

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.

Healthy Lifestyle Awards

I make my husband put on this bird outfit when we surprise the kids with a Healthy Lifestyle award.

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. 

 

Finding Volunteers

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.

 

Finding Focus

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.

 

Have a Walkathon to Raise Money for your School

school_walkathon_fundraiser_howto

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!

Cowboy Wild West themed walkathon school fundraiser

My daughter and I at our school “Wild West” walkathon

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

Hello Friends,

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!

 

 

 

Healthier School Lunch Policy Success

school lunch program

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.”

 

improved school lunch healthy hunger free kids actImproved Quality 

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.

 

Rebel Ideas

Fit & Fresh Healthy School Lunch Kit

Mini Crockpot for Lunch Boxes

Stainless Steel Lunch Containers

SmartPlanet Collapsible Lunch Kits

Insulated Lunch Tote

 
 

Featured on Michelle Obama’s Lets Move!

Letsmove

“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

 

 

letsmove

Let’s Move! Michelle Obama’s program to improve kids health and nutrition.

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.

 

Click Here to Read our article featured on LetsMove.gov

 

Get Healthy Eating to Take Root at your School

AddiHealthy

 

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.

healthy schools

Addison, daughter of Tryna Fitzpatrick, promoting healthy choices at school

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.

Partnering for Healthier Schools: PTA Leads the Way on Healthy Food in Virginia School

We were recently featured on the USDA blog

 

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!

healthy schools

Virginia PTA leads the way with school healthy lifestyles program

“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.

Q&A with Matoaka Elementary (A Real-life Success Story!)

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!)

school healthy lifestyles

Improving school food. Interview with Healthy Lifestyle leaders

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 AwardsMatoaka 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.