With an estimated 55 million students in the US attending schools from preschool to 12th grade, schools are in an ideal position to have a significant impact on the health and well-being of children. The face of school nutrition is changing and keeping students, parents, and community members informed and involved is a win-win for all. The fact that so many students, families, and the community members interact with school food service on a frequent basis makes it a perfect avenue for education and healthy behavior change to take place-- leading to improvement in the health and well-being of all. One great opportunity to inform and showcase the food service program and involve families is during open houses and other school forums or events. Many creative and fun ideas can make these interactive and hands on learning endeavors engaging and informative.
- Whether the choice is to include the food service department in an already planned open house or to plan a nutrition expo, having educational presentations and lunchroom samples can help you gather community input about healthy changes and foods served. Having others in the community buy into trying new and healthier choices helps the youth see adults as positive role models for healthy behavior changes.
- Making the offerings fun and novel will encourage the most participation.
- Hold a recipe or mini chef contest in conjunction with the open house/event.
- Many great USDA recipes and other kids’ friendly recipes are available here.
- Work with the food service personnel to develop recipes to be trialed and enjoyed at events! Popular recipes can then be star features during regular meals.
- Empower students by including them in menu planning. Use after school events to offer taste tests, allowing parents and students to complement the work of the food service personnel. This could lead other students to be more willing to try the item when it is on the menu. Word of mouth about an item being a winner at an open house or event can be very beneficial.
- Vote on most creative featured food item, most nutritious item, most cost effective item, most colorful item, honorable mention etc… to allow for many items to be recognized and trialed on the school menu after the event.
Another idea for the open houses is a competition between classes. Kids tend to love a competition and including the food services and enhancing nutrition and wellness into this type of format is a good way to be effective.
- Have a poster contest that promotes good nutritious ideas for breakfast, lunch, or snacks where winners in various categories are chosen. These can then be hung around the classrooms and lunchroom as another way to encourage healthy choices.
- Organize a puppet show that highlights the new food choices and how this makes students healthier and stronger. This is another fun way to promote the food services area.
- Have a craft and games table that teaches about the healthfulness of food options and choices.
Spreading the word about the school’s food service and the choices for a healthier student body is an awesome idea. Encouraging parents to assist in this attitude about leading the health charge for their children is a great place to start. Programs do not have to be expensive or complicated. The message about making healthy food choices a habit is what is important, and with the new food service changes promotion and awareness at school events offer an opportunity to educate the public!
Liz Smith, Ohio State University Extension