Eat. Play. Learn. L is for LUNCH

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

L is for LUNCH

We hear lots of talk about breakfast being the most important meal of the day, especially for children in school. And, when we talk about childhood hunger, most of the conversation is again about insuring that food insecure children have access to school breakfast. But, what about school lunch? Is lunch any less important than breakfast at school?

School lunch is just as important for focus, concentration and learning as breakfast – just in the afternoon instead of the morning. More children have access to school lunch than school breakfast, but sadly many children may not have enough time or the right atmosphere to actually eat and enjoy the lunch they are served. Experts agree that students need at least 15 to 20 minutes of seat time for lunch. Unfortunately many children have 10 minutes or less to sit and eat at lunchtime – and often the cafeteria is loud or managed more like a prison with whistles, lights out and silence for bad behavior.

The good news is that some schools are creating Comfortable Cafeterias, which encourage students to socialize and enjoy their lunch – without being pressured to eat or to hurry. I have worked with Montana Team Nutrition on resources for Pleasant and Positive Mealtimes. The goal is make cafeterias inviting places for children to eat – so that the food goes into them rather than into trash cans. It is only nutrition when they eat or drink it!

Just look at the wonderful tray that this student in Bethel, Oregon, chose on the lunch line and consider for a moment how long it will take her to eat it – even without distractions from other students and cafeteria aides! With a a beautiful lunch like this, children need time and encouragement to eat, so they can pay attention and learn in the afternoon.

First Grade Student in Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

First Grade Student in Bethel School District, Eugene, Oregon

Eat. Play. Learn. H is for HUNGRY.

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

H is for HUNGRY

When I hear that schools are closed for days in a row, my immediate thought is about what those children will eat when they do not have access to school meals. If children regularly come to school hungry, it means that they do not have access to food at home. And, when the weather is bad, their families may be even less able to shop for groceries or visit a food bank. Honestly, for millions of American children, a snow day may be a hungry day. Preliminary 2013 USDA data shows that an average of 18.9 million children ate a free school lunch daily and 10.1 million ate a school breakfast on average.

The numbers in the previous paragraph also tell another story as well – that is the enormous ‘breakfast gap’ of 8.8 million children who are eligible but are not receiving a free breakfast. These are the children who may to be too hungry to learn as reported in the deeply disturbing Hunger in Our Schools: Teachers Report 2013 by No Kid Hungry: Share Our Strength. If nearly 73 percent of teachers regular try to teach hungry children, we are a very serious educational problem in our schools. The simple fact is that hungry children cannot focus, concentrate and learn. School breakfast is one obvious solution and I applaud the administrators and educators who are ramping up their efforts to expand the program. Michigan State Superintendent of Schools Mike Flanagan is is a true nutrition hero for promoting the “First Fuel” Breakfast Challenge in his state – and I am proud to be part of the Michigan Team Nutrition training for this effort. Too hungry to learn is unacceptable for any child in Michigan, Montana or any other US state.

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S TEACHERS REPORT 2013

SHARE OUR STRENGTH’S
TEACHERS REPORT 2013

Eat. Play. Learn. F is for FUEL Up

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

F is for FUEL Up

I’ve been a serious fan of FUEL Up to Play 60 since its 2007 kickoff. I’ve seen the frontline benefits in my hometown (Billings, Montana) and in many states across the USA. I wrote the SNA toolkit: Make Fuel Up to Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program and know for certain that the program can enhance school environments, nutrition programs and academic achievement.

In my playbook, FUEL Up to Play 60 scores a touchdown because, at the school level, all plays are planned and implemented by students themselves! If we want to raise a healthier generation of Americans, it is today’s youth who need to make a commitment to wellness in their own lives. FUEL Up to Play 60 grants and resources support and inspire young folks to make the program’s tagline a reality. Here are three examples of how student leaders are making health happen in their schools.

  • EAT HEALTHY. The FUEL Up to Play 60 Willow Creek team (pictured below) served yogurt parfaits and whole-wheat breakfast burritos made with turkey sausage during a National School Breakfast week celebration.
  • GET ACTIVE. The creativity of FUEL Up to Play 60 teams really shines when it comes to fitness fun – and the added minutes of physical activity have helped kids get fit and schools meet the criteria for USDA’s HealthierUS School Challenge.
  • MAKE A DIFFERENCEFUEL Up to Play 60 helps motivate me to stay in the school wellness game. When kids make presentations to school boards, start grab-n-go breakfast carts or plant school gardens, I believe that real change is possible.

Want more details FUEL Up to Play 60 plays or help in bringing the program to your school? Contact your state/regional dairy council and check the FUEL Up to Play 60 website.

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Nevada, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Willowcreek Middle School, Lehi, Utah, Goes BIG with FUTP60!

Eat. Play. Learn. E is for ENVIRONMENT

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

E is for ENVIRONMENT

In the school wellness ‘biz,’ we talk a lot about creating a healthy school environment. In fact, it’s probably safe to say that most of my professional work and a significant portion of my volunteer time has been devoted to promoting a culture of wellness in K-12 schools. A quote from the The Wellness Impact: Enhancing Academic Success through Healthy School Environments captures the key issues.

“… the vital importance of improved nutrition and increased physical activity in creating an environment that enriches students’ readiness to learn.”

So what exactly is a healthy school environment? How can you tell that you are in a healthy environment when you walk into a school? Actually, I think that you can see aspects of a healthy environment before you even get to a school building! Here are just a few of my favorite way to identify a school where students can be fit, well-nourished and ready to learn.

  • Students (and sometimes families) fill the sidewalks as they walk to school.
  1. School bike racks are full or overflowing (see photo below from Idaho middle school).
  2. Playgrounds and sports fields are full of children and adults playing together.
  3. Gardens have a prominent place on the school campus.
  4. Wonderful aromas of food cooking/baking/roasting waft through the hallways.
  5. Hallway walls have artwork, signs or markers to encourage physical activity.
  6. Banners or signs identify awards and recognition for nutrition and fitness.
  7. Breakfast is served in the classroom to every child who needs it.
  8. Food presentations are eye-appealing, colorful and customer-focused.
  9. Cafeteria is bright and cheerful; students socializing with inside voices.
  10. Adults are sitting and eating with children rather than patrolling the tables.
  11. Any snack food sales offer many options from MyPlate food groups.
  12. Fun after-school physical activities are available to children of all abilities.

These are just a few of my favorite things in a healthy school environment. What are yours?

Full Bike Racks at Heritage Middle School in Meridian Idaho

Full Bike Racks at Heritage Middle School in Meridian, Idaho

Eat. Play. Learn. D is for DISCIPLINE

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

D is for DISCIPLINE

If you have ever worked in schools, you know that discipline problems can take up lots of time that could be better spent on teaching and learning. What you may not know is that discipline and behavior can be improved with something as simple as active recess or classroom energizers or PE class. It’s true – there is a definite Learning Connection between student’s physical activity and their levels of physical activity.

I am a huge fan of programs like Fuel Up to Play 60 (see Maine photo below), Move to Learn, and Playworks that get kids up and moving throughout school campuses – in classrooms, gyms, playgrounds and even hallways. While the strategies and activities vary from program to program and school to school, the overall goal is the same: Increase student physical activity in order to improve behavior, reduce discipline referrals and, ultimately, to enhance cognition and academic success. Does it work?

According to the experts, the answer is another resounding YES. Short bursts of activity, moderate activities like walking and dancing, skill-building PE classes and active recess all help students become more fit, more focused and ready to learn. Need some proof? Here are links to evaluations, assessments and research about the connection between physical activity, behavior and school discipline issues:

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)

Students in PIttston, Maine, jump for joy (as well as health, wellness and academic success)

Eat. Play. Learn. C is for CLASSROOM

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

C is for CLASSROOM

As they say in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Many educators and school administrators are asking if a classroom is the right location for a school breakfast. The answer from superintendents, principals, teachers and students across the country is a resounding YES. From reading the research, visiting the schools and talking with stakeholders, these are the top four reasons that I’m a big believer in – and booster for – breakfast in the classroom (BIC), sometimes called breakfast after the bell.

  1. Serving breakfast in the classroom is a proven strategy for increasing breakfast participation. The Food Research and Action Center’s (FRAC) 2014 School Breakfast Scorecard credits increased numbers of low-income students eating breakfast to strategies like moving it out of the cafeteria into the classroom.
  2. Students like the comfortable atmosphere of their classroom better than a loud cafeteria. Eating in a classroom – with an opt-out option – reduces the stigma of breakfast-for-poor-kids-only. When I talk to students, like those in the photo below, they tell me they like to eat with their friends in a quiet, calm place.
  3. Teachers see positive results when students eat a morning meal in the classroom. The 2013 Too Hungry to Learn report showed that 75% of teachers liked knowing that their students are energized and ready to learn. Seventy-six percent use the time to take attendance, 65% make classroom announcements.
  4. School administrators have also embraced the benefits of serving breakfast in the classroom. In 2013, the American Association of School Administrators (AASA, The Superintendents Association) published an issue of their magazine on Improving Attendance, Health and Behavior: Moving Breakfast Out of the Cafeteria.

Breakfast in the classroom is good for students, educators and administrators. I call that a win-win-win – and clearly this classroom does too.

OKC BIC-4

Eat. Play. Learn. B is for BREAKFAST

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

B is for BREAKFAST

Want the low-down on the benefits of breakfast for school-aged children? Just ask those on the front lines of education – classroom teachers. That is what Share our Strength did in the No Kid Hungry 2012 Teacher’s Report Hunger in Our Schools.

Teachers know the realities of hunger in America’s classrooms – and they know the educational, behavioral and health benefits of breakfast (see graph below). What they may not know is that school breakfast also helps to fill the nutrition gaps experienced by US children and teens. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans Advisory Committee Report, American young people, especially teenage girls, have numerous nutrient ‘shortfalls.’ Many are not getting enough vitamin A, C and E, magnesium and phosphorus. Even more are lacking the four nutrients of concern: vitamin D, potassium, calcium and dietary fiber.

The good news it is that a simple school breakfast – fruit, whole grain cereal or bread, and low-fat dairy – helps to fill those nutrient gaps. School breakfast also provides the protein and energy that students need to focus, concentrate and learn until lunch time. Such a simple meal – with so many breakfast benefits!

2012 NKH Teachers Benefits

Eat, Play, Learn: The ABCs of Health and Learning

To celebrate the publication of Proceedings of the Learning Connection Summit: Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Student Achievement, I’m offering a short daily post during February on the ABCs of the health and academics.

A is for ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT 

This new paper, written by me with distinguished co-authors Marie Spano, MS, RD, CSCS, CSSD, Joseph E. Donnelly, EDD, FACSM, Charles H. Hillman, PhD, and Ronald Kleinman, MD, and made possible through an educational grant from Nike, was published in January/February 2014 Nutrition Today. It shares key insights from the September 2012 GENYOUth Nutrition + Physical Activity Learning Connection Summit.

  • The proceedings examine the growing body of research focused on the association between physical activity, school-based physical education, school breakfast consumption, improved nutrition overall, and academic achievement.
  • The Summit convened thought leaders and decision-makers from the public-private sectors in education, health and wellness, academia, government, philanthropy, business and, importantly, students to explore the connection that physical activity and nutrition have to learning and behavior. It explored both the barriers and opportunities to help schools implement wellness policies and practices.
  • The participants identified knowledge gaps, developed practical approaches to leverage the current science, and recommitted to work with schools to enhance children’s health and readiness to learn.

Students were a core part of the Summit – joining conversations about the importance of the learning connection, sharing ideas for improving academic achievement, and acting as leaders among their generation to make a difference. I am excited to share what I learned during -and since – the Summit from the research, from the experts and from young people themselves. Students, like Kylie from Minnesota, are my daily inspiration for improving academic achievement through nutrition and fitness at school.

Eat. Play. Learn. It’s all about ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT. 

Kylie, Fuel Up To Play 60, Student Ambassador, Minnesota

Kylie Kasprick, Fuel Up To Play 60, Student Ambassador, Minnesota