Let’s Go! Improving School Meals – Lessons From the Field

Healthy Food Choices in Schools July 31, 2014 Print Friendly and PDF

 

Let’s Go! Background:

Let’s Go! is a nationally-recognized childhood obesity prevention program committed to significantly decreasing childhood obesity rates in Maine by increasing healthy eating and active living in children from birth to age 18. Since 2006, Let’s Go! has worked in six settings (early childhood programs, schools, after school programs, health care practices, workplaces and community settings) to reach children and families where they live, learn, work and play. Let’s Go! promotes healthy behavior through consistent use of the 5-2-1-0 message as well as through policy and environmental change across the six settings. Developed in Maine and based on scientific evidence[1], the simple 5-2-1-0 message teaches children to follow these guidelines each day:

Let’s Go!’s program evaluation has documented success in changing policies and environments to support healthy behaviors, increase awareness of the 5-2-1-0 message, and increase healthy behaviors in children.

Let’s Go! School Nutrition Initiative:

Let’s Go! views school nutrition programs as essential partners in increasing healthy eating among students. Well-nourished students demonstrate better behavior and improved academic performance at school[2]. School lunch is served in over 99% of public schools and more than 31 million students eat school lunch each day[3].

In 2007, a group of school nutrition directors from the Greater Portland area convened and began to learn about the complexities of school nutrition programs. Let’s Go! quickly realized that this dynamic group of directors had a lot to share about the challenges and opportunities they face in serving students healthy meals in school. They shared their desire to improve nutrition as well as their frustration with the poor public perception of school meals. Let’s Go! decided to meet monthly  to focus on developing a relationship by creating a collaborative atmosphere that facilitated peer to peer learning, recognized the strengths of each participant and used group decision making. Let’s Go! acknowledged the expertise that each individual brought to the table and shared leadership decisions with the entire group in an effort to improve the nutritional quality of school meals and  the perception of school meals. By 2009, the workgroup members were making measurable improvements[4] to the nutritional quality of school meals.

Currently, (as of July 2013), there are 5 regional workgroups across the state that meet regularly.  Within a supportive environment, the workgroups work towards the following goals:

  1. To develop a regional infrastructure to improve school meals by establishing Let’s Go! School Nutrition Workgroups.
  2. To increase the nutritional quality of school meals by assisting schools in implementing the new federal standards, reaching the HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC), and implementing Smarter Lunchroom techniques.
  3. To improve the perception of school meals by implementing a communications campaign.

To accomplish these goals, the workgroup member’s work together to identify best practices, brainstorm solutions to common barriers, and celebrate successes.  The pace is dictated by the group and everyone supports each other along the way – no one gets left behind. 

Overall, the Let’s Go! School Nutrition Workgroups have evolved into regional collaborative think tanks made up of school nutrition directors and facilitated by the Let’s Go! School Nutrition Manager. Regional and national experts contribute guidance and expertise to the workgroups. The style of the workgroup incorporates listening, learning, debating, and negotiating. It’s a high functioning facilitated partnership that fosters learning, sharing, and full participation. The workgroups provide a safe, supportive atmosphere for school nutrition directors to come together to develop uncommon solutions to common problems.  These elements have been crucial to the success of the workgroups in improving the nutritional quality of school meals.


Contributor 

Heidi Kessler, Let's Go 5210

Sources

[1] Barlow, S. E.(2007). Expert Committee Recommendations Regarding the Prevention, Assessment and Treatment of Child and Adolescent Overweight and Obesity. Pediatrics, 102 S164 – S192.

[2] Glewwe, P., Jacoby, H. G., & King, E. M. (2001). Early childhood nutrition and academic achievement: a longitudinal analysis. Journal of Public Economics, 81(3), 345-368.

[3] Food and Nutrition Services. (2012). National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet.

[4] Let’s Go! (2010). Let’s Go! Annual Report Year Four July 1, 2009-June 30, 2010.  


 

 

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This work is supported by the USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture, New Technologies for Ag Extension project.