School Success: What’s HEALTH got to do with it?

While news about childhood obesity often makes the headlines, three other interrelated — and equally critical issues — are often not as familiar. While you may not have heard as much about student under-nutrition, food insecurity and inactivity, a growing body of research suggests that these issues can have a significant — and negative — impact on the children and adolescents in schools. It is critical to understand how addressing these physical health issues, identified as the foundation for learning in Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, can help to support classroom performance and academic success in any district.
Physical Health = Foundation for Learning

As a few statistics will show, there are compelling reasons to address the physical health needs of America’s children today. In terms of nutrition, the overwhelming majority of children in the U.S. (98 percent) do not consume adequate servings from all food groups, missing nutrient-rich foods essential for growth and development. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, four nutrients (calcium, vitamin D, potassium and fiber) are of “public health concern,” meaning these nutrient gaps are so big they affect children’s health today and in the future.

The Partnership for a Healthier America (PHA) also notes that there is a crisis of physical inactivity among our nation’s youth. The PHA September 2012 Policy Snapshot reports that only 42 percent of children ages six to 11 and 29 percent of high school students get the recommended 60 minutes of daily physical activity.

Nearly 17 million American children live in food insecure homes, not always certain when or where they will have their next meal. Recent surveys suggest that as many as half of school children skip breakfast regularly. There is also growing awareness among policy makers that food insecurity and the high rates of childhood obesity in the U.S. may be interrelated problems. The fact that children can be both overweight and food insecure is counter intuitive – and the reasons are both complex and not completely understood.


We do know that food insecurity affects students’ health, development, behavior and school performance. Food insecure students tend to have lower math scores, difficulty concentrating, more fatigue and are more likely to repeat a grade level. Children and teens struggling with food security are also more likely to experience difficulty getting along with others, irritability and school suspensions.
Wellness Impact Report

                        Wellness Impact Report

We also know that improving children’s eating habits and physical activity levels leads to health benefits. While multiple factors influence a child’s ability to learn in school, researchers and educators now recognize that skipping breakfast and a sedentary lifestyle may also affect a student’s cognition and achievement. GENYOUth’s Wellnes Impact Report explores the connections between nutrition, physical activity and academic achievement. Here is what they talked about and how it can make a difference in your district.


Mothers across the country have recognized the importance of breakfast for decades — and researchers have now confirmed both the health and cognitive benefits of eating well in the morning. Breakfast helps to combat childhood obesity, encourages healthy eating, and gets kids ready to learn. Unfortunately, for many families, breakfast gets squeezed out by the morning hustle and bustle — or, sadly, by the lack of food in the house. When students come to school hungry for whatever reason, they are listening to their stomachs rather than their teachers. They may have trouble concentrating on work in the classroom and often end up in the nurse’s office complaining of stomach pains and headaches. Research has shown that school breakfast programs can help prevent these problems and that they can help improve math grades, reduce school absences and rates of tardiness, and decrease emotional/behavioral problems.

Breakfast Changes Lives

                                           Breakfast Changes Lives

Expanding programs can bring all the benefits of breakfast to your schools. Flexible breakfast service — like Grab-n-Go and Breakfast in the Classroom — can help increase participation without losing valuable instructional time. Your local dairy council can work directly with your school to help implement the right breakfast program for your district. Fuel Up To Play 60 and other grants are available to help implement school breakfast programs and dairy council staff members are eager to help your district take full advantage of valuable funding, implementation and promotion resources.


The Wellness Impact Report also documents the positive relationships between physical activity at school and several indicators of academic achievement, classroom behavior and cognitive function. According to researchers, the normally sedentary school day can be activated in multiple effective ways, including physical education, active recess, walking or biking to/from school, and before/after school programs like walking clubs, as well as physically active classroom lessons and energizing breaks.

Activity in Schools

                                                         Activity in Schools

Your district’s physical education (PE) professionals are your best resource for all the ways to increase activity in and out of the classroom. If you want to see some excellent examples of classroom energizers for elementary and middle school students, Eat Smart, Move More North Carolina were developed as part of the North Carolina State Board of Education’s Healthy Active Children Policy.


While everyone has a role to play in creating healthier, smarter school environments, student empowerment is a critical component for success. According to the Learning Connection Summit leaders, one of the key principles of game-changing improvements in school nutrition and physical activity is to focus on youth leadership for maximum impact. That is the goal of Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP60), developed by the NDC and NFL, in collaboration with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. FUTP60 now engages over 11 million students in 73,000 schools. A recent survey of adults involved in those schools indicated that 70 percent believe the program is helping youth make healthier food choices and 62 percent say it is helping increase the amount of time students being physically active at school.

And, THAT is what it’s all about: Creating healthier school environments to create healthier students who are fit, healthy and ready to learn! Sincere thanks to Southeast United Dairy Industry Association, Inc. (SUDIA) for their support of the original draft of this article, published in the SEEN Magazine of the Southeast Education Network

SUPER Breakfast, SUPER Oatmeal, SUPER BOWL Challenge

For the first time ever SCHOOL MEALS THAT ROCK is offering some SUPER PRIZES – for your participation in FUEL UP TO PLAY 60 SUPER BOWL BREAKFAST CHALLENGE.

From November 5th through December 3rd, you will have the chance to win one of FOUR $50 GIFTS CARDS from the NFL Gift Shop. All you have to do is check the weekly questions on FACEBOOK School Meals That Rock and post your answers – and, of course, get your school excited about entering the FUEL UP TO PLAY 60 SUPER BOWL BREAKFAST CHALLENGE. Rules for entering the challenge are pasted below and on the FUTP60 website.


  • Respond to this blog post with a BREAKFAST or OATMEAL comment … or post a BREAKFAST or OATMEAL comment on FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock or on Twitter @SchoolMealsRock.
  • Every week, a winner will be drawn randomly from all those who post an answer to the weekly question.
  • You may post as many different answers as you like on FACEBOOK: School Meals That Rock or on Twitter @SchoolMealsRock.
  • Winners of the gift cards – and a selection of answers – will be posted here throughout the month of November, along with FUEL UP TO PLAY 60 resources and success stories. 

This week’s questions is a simple, but critical, one:

  • In your own words (25 or less), why is OATMEAL an awesome breakfast food for students and teachers?  

NOTE: The gift card give-away is sponsored by FUTP60, a partnership of the NFL and National Dairy Council Although I do consulting work for National Dairy Council (and dairy affiliates across the US), I am not receiving any compensation for participating in this contest.

Students enjoy oatmeal breakfast bar at a FUTP60 Youth Summit

Breakfast is one of the most important meals of the day, and it can be the most fun, too! How do you want to fuel up your school with oatmeal? Propose your big idea for an awesome breakfast event at school, and your school could win big…SUPER BOWL big. If you are selected as one of the TWO national winners, you get a VIP, all-expenses paid trip to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans! Your school will also get to turn their idea into a reality! So, what are you waiting for? Show us how you want to enjoy oatmeal at your school! Tips for creating a ‘Super Bowl’ worthy submission:

1. Design a fun proposal. You can use one of the templates provided to describe your suggested breakfast event. Photos and drawings are optional. You can also submit a video or digital recording of your proposal. Your event doesn’t have to occur in order to be eligible for the prize – we’re just looking for great ideas! 

2. Request an Oatmeal Starter Kit. To get you excited for the challenge, we’re giving away free oatmeal! Ask your Program Advisor or Teacher to request a kit for your school. Supplies are limited, so hurry!

3. Be creative. If you need suggested ideas for oatmeal events, your school could do: a recipe cook-off, taste-test, or a breakfast club. Think big and have fun – the options are endless. You could have a toppings bar, or add food color for your favorite NFL team! You can get bonus points for NFL flair!

4. Get to work! Use the templates provided or grab a digital camera/video recorder and show us how your school wants to enjoy oatmeal to start the day. 

5. Keep it clean. Make sure there is no swearing, violence or other inappropriate behavior featured in your submission. 

6. Be original. If you want to include music in your submission, don’t use music, videos or pictures that belong to someone else. If you could hear it on the radio or see it on TV, it can’t be used in your submission.

7. Watch the clock. Try to keep your entry short and sweet!

8. Promote the program. Wear Fuel Up to Play 60 gear or show us your inspirational posters or other Fuel Up to Play 60 materials hanging in your classroom.

 9. Be descriptive. Include a description with your entry, letting us know why you think it completes the Challenge.

10. Be on time! Don’t want until the last minute to send in your Challenge entry! Be sure to get your entry completed and uploaded online as soon as you get it done. This ensures you will be in the running for the national prizes and exclusive digital rewards!

Good luck, fuel up and get moving! And remember, we’re giving away tickets to Super Bowl XLVII in New Orleans and the chance to turn your idea into a reality! 

YUMMMMMMY … it’s oatmeal for breakfast!!

#ThinkFood with Dayle Hayes, Child Nutrition Leader and Blogger

This was originally posted on the The Dairy Report on September 5, 2012. I really appreciated the opportunity to participate in the Colorado Future of Food conversation and was honored to chat in more depth with Jean Ragalie. 

As Karen Kafer discussed in an earlier post, the dairy team hit the road this summer to participate in “Future of Food: Food in the 21st Century,” a solutions-oriented discussion on food security. Our journey began in Washington, D.C., then continued out west, in Colorado and Arizona, and returned back to the east coast with a summit in Vermont late July. At each summit, I met with various leaders in agriculture, education and government and learned more about dairy’s role in the larger conversation about food security.

At the Colorado event, I was given the opportunity to chat with featured summit speaker and School Meals That Rock creator, Dayle Hayes, MS, RD, about her experiences as an event speaker and her thoughts on the future of child nutrition. I’ve included some of our conversation below. In the meantime, I hope you join the discussions online with #ThinkFood and tune into the next summit, scheduled for October 3 in Chicago, with the Midwest Dairy Association!

Jean Ragalie (JR): What was your biggest takeaway from the event in Denver?

Dayle Hayes (DH): The time when I was reminded of what Harry Truman said when signing the first National School Act in 1946: “In the long view, no nation is healthier than its children, or more prosperous than its farmers.” It was also interesting that speakers’ comments reinforced this over and over again from different vantage points throughout the event.

JR: With regard to child nutrition, what have you seen really work and create change over the past decade?

DH: I believe that it takes a combination of three factors:

  1. Government regulations and incentives, like the HealthierUS School Challenge
  2. Product innovation, like flavored milk, and food system changes, like more local foods in quantities
  3. Local school champions, like those involved in Fuel Up to Play 60 (FUTP 60). I can say in my experience, the dairy industry programs and education of all kinds, including FUTP 60, have made a game-changing contribution to the process.

JR: What is the role of school systems in child nutrition?

DH: Essential, obviously. However, for too long, many districts have seen school meals as an irritating necessity. Clearly, the “herd ‘em in, ‘herd ‘em out” mentality is not conducive to dining enjoyment and to trying new foods. Schools must see the cafeteria as equal in importance to the classroom. Otherwise, the new meal patterns will have little sustainable effect.

JR: What are the latest tools available to help improve child nutrition?

DH: New regulations, new products and new programs are important to help improve child nutrition. The 2012 Meal Pattern update will have tremendous implications for child nutrition programs. New products from dairy companies are making it easier to serve tasty, healthful choices. Many national and local organizations provide grants of all sizes to school nutrition programs for training, equipment, and implementation. FUTP 60 is one national example, and there are literally hundreds of others. If a school wants to make improve their nutrition program, there are resources to help them.

JR: If you’re concerned about child nutrition as a health or nutrition professional, what should you do to make a difference?

DH: Partner with the professionals in your school who are also interested in (and required to make) changes with the new regulations. Help your school get the resources they need to make system-wide changes and support the nutrition program within the school and community.

For a True School Nutrition Hero: A Letter of Reference

To Whom It May Concern:

It is with great pleasure that I write this letter of recommendation for Doreen Simonds, currently Manager for Nutrition Services in the Waterford, Michigan, School District. I have interviewed Doreen multiple times over the past several years and carefully followed her outstanding work in Waterford. Ms. Simonds’ program has been featured in many of my presentations, as well as in several pieces that I have written for the School Nutrition Association (SNA). These include the 2011 Make Fuel Up To Play 60 Work For Your School Nutrition Program toolkit and mostly recently a June 2012 article for SNA’s Magazine on Putting the Power of Fuel Up to Play 60 to Work for YOU.

Without a doubt, Doreen Simonds is a true school nutrition hero and one of the leading school nutrition directors in Michigan today. Any district would be lucky to have her unique combination of professional dedication, business savvy, and programmatic creativity. As 25+ year nutrition veteran in Waterford, she oversees school meals and other nutrition programs in twenty buildings for an enrollment of nearly 12,000 students – and with exceptional enthusiasm. Here are three of the many reasons that I recommend Doreen for a position in your district.

First, COMMITMENT to children: In Doreen’s world, it really is all about feeding hungry kids. In describing her first venture into USDA’s Summer Food Service Program (SFSP) this year, she wrote: “We really pulled together the SFSP in a huge rush (we just applied to do it under a month ago). I felt compelled not to wait and did a huge push for it. Every time a mother comes up to me with tears in her eyes and says  “I don’t know what I was going to do this summer to feed my kids…thank you so much for doing this!”  I know the struggle was worth it!!!

Secondly, CREATIVITY in marketing: Everything that Doreen does is infused with creativity. Her talents, abilities, and 30+ years as a wedding photographer all come together in the positive brand she has created with the WSP Depot Cafe, its life-sized mascot Diggin Diesel, and the Tracker Tray Train, designed to help kids understand and enjoy all the components of nutritious, delicious school meals. It’s no wonder that Waterford’s maintains impressive levels of participation – and that Doreen’s district has been recognized with multiple HealthierUS School Challenge awards, as well as an invitation to celebrate with Michelle Obama on the lawn of the White House (Doreen is fourth from left).

Finally, COLLABORATION with others: Every time I talk to Doreen Simonds, I hear much more about the folks she works with than about her. This is a woman who clearly knows how to “play well with others.” She takes advantage of every opportunity to collaborate with other programs, like Michigan Team Nutrition and Fuel Up To Play 60. She is always eager to talk about how her successes are the result of others hard work: “In Mason Elementary, we have a teacher ‘champion’ who goes all the way, so we have 60 to 80 kids at the monthly meetings. We’ve seen a huge increase in breakfast and lunch participation – and their fruit intake is unbelievable! The kids have helped with taste tests, like whole grain waffles, and United Dairy Industries of Michigan provides super support and lots of wonderful materials.”

Seriously and sincerely, Doreen Simonds is a school nutrition hero and you want to have her on your team!   Dayle Hayes, MS, RD