Nutrition is important to you, but how can you get your friends and classmates to care too? Voicing your opinion about the school food environment is a great way to share facts and inspire your school to adopt healthier habits, but you need to make sure you’re presenting your thoughts and ideas in an effective way. In order to make your opinions heard, try these tips:
Be positive and offer solutions. Even if you think changes are needed in your school’s food environment, keep a positive tone. Don’t complain about what you think is wrong-- instead, point out what you think is being done correctly and where changes can be made. Most importantly, provide examples of easy ways to make these changes. This will show that you are helpful and reasonable.
Know the facts. If your opinion is one that not everyone agrees with, people will probably ask you a lot of questions and may present a counter opinion. If you think your school shouldn’t have soda machines because soda is bad for you, find out as much as you can about why soda is unhealthy. Make sure your sources are research based so you can be sure your information is correct. Resources like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are great places to start. By sharing accurate information, you can help people understand why they should support your opinion.
Prepare to hear their side. While you’re looking up information that supports your opinion, don’t forget to research the other side, too. Finding out the common arguments the other side believes will prepare you for any questions or debates that may arise and help you plan your responses. Always be respectful to your audiences, even if they disagree with you – coming across as sarcastic or rude could cause audiences to dismiss your own message.
Decide who to speak with. Maximize your impact by talking to the key opinion leaders in your school. This can be some combination of the principal, teachers, student government, food service staff, or even the Board of Education. These people will have the most power to influence decisions, so speaking with them is very important.
Decide how to communicate. Think about the best way you can reach people—do you think the most effective means of communication in your school will be written, verbal, or both? Written communication can include pamphlets, posters, emails, or a social media campaign. Verbal communication might include public announcements, setting up an information booth, or asking to give a speech (with or without a PowerPoint presentation) during classes, assemblies, or meetings of the Board of Education. All of these options could be beneficial, but consider what you feel most comfortable doing as well as what your school will allow you to do. In order to ensure that you and your message are received in the best possible light, always make sure your work is professional, neat, proofread, and well-prepared.
Check with administrators. Depending on your school and the means of communication that you pick, you may need to get permission to carry out some of your plans. If you just want to talk to your friends about healthy habits you won’t need prior approval, However, if you want to speak for a few minutes to a class you will have to talk to teachers and administrators beforehand. Make sure to ask well in advance, as many teachers and other school staff plan events and lessons week in advance.
Adjust to the crowd. Once you have done this, consider the people you will be communicating with. Will they react best to an informal or professional tone? Should you use lots of humor or get right to the point? Fellow students tend to find shorter, light-hearted presentations more enjoyable while adults might prefer more in depth ones that use a lot of facts and sources. Keep this in mind before and while you are sharing your opinion.
Relax. You’ve done your research and you feel passionately about your opinion. Present the information you’ve prepared and listen to feedback that people give.
Tisa Hill and Julie Apuzzo, Cornell University Division of Nutritional Sciences
MTD Training. (2012). Effective Communication Skills.
For More Nutrition Information
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)
United States Department of Agriculture (USDA)
School Nutrition Association