Every parent desires for their children to succeed in school and have good health. Part of establishing and maintaining good health is making healthy food choices. Eating nutritious foods impacts not only students’ health, but also mood, development and ability to learn and focus well in school and at home. What if bettering childrens' nutrition was as easy as eating lunch through the school lunch program? The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) helps make it possible for all school children who qualify to receive a nutritious lunch every school day (2). Researchers have found that children who participate in the NSLP have superior nutritional intakes compared to those who did not participate (2). Instead of going through a drive-thru, packing a lunch bag, giving your child some lunch money or allowing them to skip lunch altogether, look into the school lunch program at your schools. They may be offering exactly what you’re looking for! Here are some steps parents can take to help promote participation:
Talk – Talk with your school health coordinator, other parents, and friends to find out what is being currently promoted in the way of school lunch programs or healthy food choices. Talk with your children and encourage them to try new foods offered to them. In a study conducted in a high school, students reported that neither the school staff nor their parents encouraged them to eat the foods, and simply displaying posters is not always enough to prompt students to change their habits (1). Talk with the school staff to see what they’re doing to promote healthy eating, and talk with your children about making healthy choices.
Model –Children look to adults for guidance; if we’re willing to look into and try nutritious foods, children will be more inclined to follow our lead and do the same. Parents and teachers can visit school lunchrooms. Even when eating with our children in other settings, making healthy food choices or trying something new, is a good way to send the message to children that a varied, healthy diet is important.
Implement – Research what foods are offered as part of the school lunches, and occasionally have them in your home, so children can see that unfamiliar healthy foods are good and normal. As parents make these choices, they are helping support the schools health standards while increasing their children’s nutritional intake.
Participate – Find out if your area offers a National School Lunch Week, a National School Breakfast Week or other promotional events. Get involved with your family, support the promotions in your local area. Attend the promotions in your local area and consider volunteering at the events. If you’re helping out, your children will be more inclined to jump right in with you and talk about the changes with their peers. If nothing is offered in your area, talk with the proper school coordinators to see if you can help them promote nutrition in any way.
Social Media –Post about nutrition, school lunches and what’s happening in your community via Facebook, Twitter, Skype, Pinterest, Linked-In, Flickr, YouTube, etc. The School Nutrition Association has a presence on many of these sites, so network and help spread the word (3). If the researchers and professionals make these available to the public, we should be using them as much as possible.
Sarah Ransom-University of Tennessee Extension Family and Consumer Sciences
- Brown, N., Hutchinson, J., & Gilmore, S. (1998). Increasing participation by high school students in the school lunch program. Insight: NFSMI, 11, Retrieved from http://www.nfsmi.org/documentlibraryfiles/PDF/20080313014626.pdf
- Food Research & Action Center. (2010). National school lunch program. Retrieved from http://frac.org/federal-foodnutrition-programs/national-school-lunch-program/
- School Nutrition Association. (2010, October). Social school lunch: A how-to guide on social media for school nutrition programs. Retrieved from http://www.schoolnutrition.org/uploadedFiles/School_Nutrition/101_News/NewsArchives/SNA_News_Articles/Social%20Media%20Guide%20for%20SNA%20Members.pdf
For More Information
National School Lunch Week or National School Breakfast Week