How to Encourage Healthy Eating in Schools

Three Methods:Concerned ParentsEducators and AdministratorsStudents

Approximately 17% of children and teens in the United States are obese or overweight. In 1980, that rate was 5 to 6.5 percent. Obesity in childhood can lead to many complications, from early onset cardiovascular disease to Type 2 Diabetes. Also, many overweight children tend to be overweight adults. Recently, this epidemic has been getting attention from well-known figures like the first lady, Michelle Obama and celebrity chefs like Jamie Oliver. Media attention on this growing issue has placed great scrutiny on the nutritional value of school meals.

School meals can account for the majority of the food children eat during the week. Despite the common misconception, food served in schools is usually healthy because it has to meet nutrition standards from local, state and federal governments. Studies have shown that school meals provide more servings of fruits, vegetables and dairy than the sack lunches and that children tend to eat the least healthy during the summer months.

Schools have been downsizing vending machines and eliminating sodas. However, there is still much that can be done to promote healthy eating in schools. Parents, students, educators and school administrators can all play a role in encouraging healthy eating habits in schools.

Method 1
Concerned Parents

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    Encourage healthy eating at home. If parents and children eat a well-balanced, healthy diet at home, then children are more likely to follow that example at school.
    • Talk to children about food and nutrition. Explaining which foods are nutritional and why each meal of the day is important helps children understand, which helps them make better decisions when the parents are not around.
    • Go over the school food menu with children. If children don’t like something, they will usually state it. By going through the menu, the children have a chance to give feedback on what is being served. Parents can use this feedback and pass it on to the school food service director. Parents can also use this feedback to address common myths around school food and as a last option, they can work with their children to create healthy sack lunch alternatives that meet the child’s expectations.
    • Keep fruit available for snacks in a visible location. Children will eat what they have access to and so will parents. Having the fruit out is a reminder that it is there and ready. Fruit also has more fiber to help satiate between meals. This can also help decrease unhealthy snacking
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    Take an active role in what the government is doing to encourage healthy eating in schools. School meals are regulated at many different levels of government. The county regulations may differ from the state, and the state regulations often differ from the federal when it comes to school meals. If a school participates in the national school lunch and breakfast programs, then it must meet the requirements to receive aid from the federal government. These requirements include serving the proper amounts of healthy foods for each meal. The school still needs to meet state and local requirements as well, which are often more strict than the federal guidelines. Unfortunately, the regulations can vary greatly from one school district to another and that is why it is important to know the regulations and get involved.
    • Get involved with Let’s Move. Let’s Move is the federal government’s program to encourage healthier children. The program has many resources to educate. They also have groups throughout the U.S. made up of concerned parents that get together to help in their local communities. The Let’s Move groups can be found on and parents can join a local group for free.
    • Correspond with local congress representatives’ on why healthier eating in schools is important and find out how they are helping. Letting the local congress representatives know that healthier eating in schools is important will open their eyes to a topic that needs to be addressed. Many schools lack funding to purchase the best food choices and many of the money made from school lunches goes to other programs in schools, not back into school meals. Without people supporting the cause for healthier eating openly, schools will continue to face this cost issue and be less able to bring the best foods to children.
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    Volunteer to organize a health program that parents can be involved in.
    • The health program can sample new menu items and put together student focus groups to get feedback on what schools should serve.
    • The health program can also run contests that make nutrition fun and reward students for their efforts.
    • Promote school lunch by working with the food service professionals. Many school food service directors welcome volunteers. Chefs are welcome in school kitchens because they help create new menu items. Food service directors are also always looking for ways to raise participation and become more profitable.
    • Organize fundraisers. Since many fundraisers target parents, it is easier to sell healthier foods and healthy lifestyle items, such as whole grain foods and small exercise accessories. When adults support these types of fundraisers, they can teach their children by example.

Method 2
Educators and Administrators

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    Choose a health coordinator for the school. If it is a large school, more than one may be needed.
    • The health coordinator can work with the students on personal habits. This can involve BMI monitoring and evaluating eating habits to help establish healthy goals.
    • The health coordinator can also have a hand in preparing short lessons in nutrition that will relate to school meals. The lessons can coincide with the lunch or breakfast menu and be taught by teachers or cafeteria staff.
    • Have the health coordinator evaluate school meals for nutritional content and suggest changes if needed.
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    Establish a nutrition curriculum. This can be incorporated into existing or new health and physical education programs.
    • Create nutrition handouts that feature different topics that can relate to a topic students may already be learning about.
    • For young students, teach colors with fruits and vegetables.
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    Create a newsletter that contains the school food menu and also related articles on nutrition that will go home to parents. This can help build parents confidence in the food at school and educate the whole family.
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    Take field trips to the cafeteria. Letting the students explore where the food is made and see the food being prepared can be rewarding for the food service workers and peak the students interest to try more food at school.
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    Allow the students to snack on healthy items during mid-morning and mid-afternoon. Also, take a stretch break or physical activity break. The movement and food will boost energy and help the students focus better in class.
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    Institute reward-based health programs. The federal government sponsors the Healthier US School Challenge that establishes health standards for school meals, nutrition education and physical activity. This program offers incentives, resources and assistance to schools that participate. Schools can start their own programs as well.

Method 3

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    Join the EmpowerMe movement through the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. This program is for middle and high school students. This program teaches students the skills to bring about positive changes by working with the administrators and cafeteria staff and teaching fellow classmates about nutrition and healthy eating habits.
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    Eat school lunch. School lunch provides a nutritious meal for students. Supporting the school lunch program helps schools continue to be able to feed students properly throughout the day. Students can set an example by trying new things when offered.
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    Create a student-based food focus group that helps evaluate the school food menu, new items and snacks. The feedback a student-based focus group provides is very valuable to school food service directors. The students help make decisions and the school provides better food the students like so everyone wins.


  • For ideas and more resources go to Let’s Move!, the Alliance for Healthier Generation and the School Nutrition Association websites. These organizations have educational materials and information on health programs that school administrators and educators can use.

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Categories: Diet & Lifestyle