Eat. Play. Learn. U is for USDA Team Nutrition

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.

U is for USDA Team Nutrition

USDA – the US Department of Agriculture – has been developing and distributing nutrition education materials for many years. In my opinion, the recent garden-based nutrition resources from USDA’s Team Nutrition are the best they have ever produced. I am a serious fan of the very fun posters that visually express the theme of the Dig In! unit – “the world of possibilities found in growing and eating fruits and vegetables.” It’s hard to pick of favorite, but if I had to, it would probably be the Race Car poster pictured below.

As we near the end of Eat. Play. Learn. posts for February 2014, this USDA Team Nutrition poster seems to pull it all together: Eat more fruits and vegetables, Play with nutrition in fun ways, and Learn about the possibilities in growing in the garden. The Dig In! materials are designed to be “Standards-Based Nutrition Education from the Ground Up.” The ten inquiry-based lessons were created to engage 5th and 6th graders in growing, harvesting, tasting and learning about fruits and vegetables. Putting up a fun USDA poster is a great first step. Using the curriculum materials in a classroom and connecting them to school meals served in the cafeteria might actually impact a child’s eating habits. You can download all the Dig In! materials from the USDA Team Nutrition website – and Team Nutrition schools can order hard copies. Do a kid a favor – check out Dig In! and help them get excited about growing gardens!

USDA Dig In! Posters: Race Car (black beans, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, oranges, peaches, red bell pepper, rhubarb, sugar snap peas)

USDA Dig In! Posters: Race Car (black beans, blueberries, broccoli, carrots, celery, green beans, oranges, peaches, red bell pepper, rhubarb, sugar snap peas)

Eat. Play. Learn. S is for Smart Snacks in Schools

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.

S is for SMART SNACKS in Schools

Starting in fall 2014, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) interim rule on competitive foods, SMART SNACKS in Schools, goes into effect. In my opinion, there’s lots of good news in the rule, starting with more fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, and lean proteins. Based on experience with existing standards, like the 6,640+ HealthierUS School Challenge (HUSSC) winners and Alliance for a Healthier Generation (AHG) districts, the proposed rule is realistic and can benefit kids’ health.

We also need a reality check about the rule does and does not do. While SMART SNACKS in Schools represents another significant step toward healthy school nutrition environments, it does not cover foods brought from home, foods for classroom parties or any foods sold after regular school hours (athletic events, after-school fundraisers, etc.). Compliance and monitoring will be an issue outside of cafeterias. Fortunately, the AASA (American Association of School Superintendents) has a Competitive Foods Policy Initiative to build necessary support for strong policies.

After the 2012 Nutrition Standards for School Lunch went into effect, Jane Brody wrote “There’s Homework to Do on School Lunches” in the New York Times. Her basic premise was that the federal regulations and standards are just the beginning – and that homes and schools also have work at improving how children eat. I believe the same is true for this issue.

To build strong bodies and smart brains, children also need SMART SNACKS at home, SMART SNACKS brought from home to school, and SMART SNACKS served in concession stands at sporting events. A healthy school environment will take more than new regulations – it will require a culture of wellness – designed to support the connection between nutrition and academic success.

USDA Smart Snacks in Schools

USDA Smart Snacks in Schools

Eat. Play. Learn. O is for OLYMPICS

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.

O is for OLYMPICS

I am truly impressed by the dedication, commitment and love that most school nutrition professionals – or HEROES – have for their jobs and their customers. In a way, it’s rather like the dedication, commitment and love that athletes have for the Olympics. Lunch “ladies” and gentleman race around kitchens and cafeterias every day. Quickly changing menus when school is cancelled, figuring out substitutions when deliveries do not arrive, and then feeding hundreds of hungry children in a matter of minutes.

These every day heroes take the time to learn the students names – sometimes a manager will know the name and something personal about 400 or 500 students. They decorate their cafeterias and lines with artwork to educate and enjoy at the same time. This poster was one of several Olympic posters made by director Gen Armstrong, RD, for the Haines, Alaska, school district during the Olympic Games.

“Instead of changing the menus for the 2 weeks of the Olympics I just looked at the entree or when I was really struggling a condiment (like sour cream for Russia). I then drew their flag, listed how many medals they had going into the games, how many athletes, I then looked up a fact about the featured food, an athlete from there, and finally showed what a school lunch from that country would look like. After they have their day in the display they are taken down and hung around the cafeteria and will remain for the duration.”

Ms. Armstrong deserves a gold medal for her many achievements in the Haines Borough District. She serves Alaskan Farm-to-School produce on the salad bar – and fresh, made-from-scratch, locally-sourced mini crab cakes in the cafeterias. Now, that’s a school lunch that anyone could love. Thanks to Gen and to the thousands of school nutrition heroes for all the meals they serve – right now, somewhere in America, they area feeding the athletes training for Olympics 2018 and beyond. Go USA!

Haines (AK) Olympic Celebration

Haines (AK) Olympic Celebration

Eat. Play. Learn. I is for INTERNATIONAL

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.

I is for INTERNATIONAL

With all the current Olympic coverage, I’ve been thinking international school foods and looking forward to International School Meals Day 2014. In promoting the second year of this event, USDA Yibo Wood emphasized the learning connection – facts that bypass any border.

“A hungry or emotional child cannot develop physically, mentally or emotionally. Healthy eating habits provide the optimum mental and physical health for children and, once established, last a lifetime.”

The theme for this year’s celebration is Food Stories. Check out International School Meals Day 2014 and get involved, find resources and share practices.

Speaking of the 2014 Olympics and great food stories, Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools has a fantastic promotion this week. The Lunch Games has delicious options based on cuisines from Greek and Argentina to Italy and Russia. You can see all four lunches on the Schools Lunches That Rock Pinterest board.

Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools 2014 Olympic Promotion

Gwinnett County (GA) Public Schools 2014 Olympic Promotion

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

Smart Snacks for Schools: We All Have Homework to Do for Kids’ Health

On February 1, 2013, the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced the long-anticipated proposed rule on competitive foods in schools, now known as Smart Snacks in Schools. Published in the Federal Register on February 8th, the rule is now open for a mandatory 60-day public comment period, which closes on April 9, 2013. The overall reaction has been positive, although many folks are probably still trying to digest the details of the 160-page document.

Changes in allowed snacks according to USDA

Changes in allowed snacks according to USDA

If your schedule does not permit a long read, several good summaries are available online. There is a very readable Q-and-A format in USDA Summary, excellent materials from a webinar by USDA and Food Research Action Center (FRAC), and the School Nutrition Association page with links and member-only comment section. The more you read, the more you’ll know. What follows is my personal, big picture reaction to the proposal and what it will really mean in local schools.

THE GOOD NEWS

There’s lots of good news in the proposed rule, starting with more fruits, veggies, low-fat dairy foods, whole grains, and lean proteins. Anyone who cares about kids’ health knows that there is still plenty of room for improvement in the options that kids have outside of school meals covered by USDA’s 2012 Nutrition Standards. Other positive aspects of Smart Snacks in Schools:

THE REALITY CHECK

While Smart Snacks in Schools represents another significant step toward creating healthy school nutrition environments, it’s also important to note what it does not do. It does not cover foods brought from home, foods for classroom parties or any foods sold after regular school hours (athletic events, after-school fundraisers, etc.).

  • In fact, most of the effect from this rule will be seen in cafeteria a la carte lines, as well as on some vending and fundraisers held during school hours.
  • Compliance and monitoring will an issue outside of cafeterias; school nutrition programs know how to do the required record keeping, but it is not clear who can – or even wants to – be effective as “food police” in the wider school campus.
Students enjoy smart snacks in Ellensburg, Washington, thanks to Fuel Up To Play 60 Program

Students enjoy smart snacks in Ellensburg, Washington, school cafeteria – with support from Fuel Up To Play 60 Program

OUR HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENTS

Last October, after the 2012 Nutrition Standards for School Lunch went into effect, Jane Brody wrote “There’s Homework to Do on School Lunches” in the New York Times. Her basic premise was that the federal regulations and standards are just the beginning – and that homes and schools also have work at improving how children eat. I believe the same is true for this issue.

To build strong bodies and smart brains, children also need smart snacks at home, smart snacks brought from home to school, and smart snacks served in concession stands at sporting events. A healthy school nutrition environment will take more than new regulations – it will require a culture of wellness. To create that culture will require us all to do some additional homework: Making comments on the proposed rule at eRulemaking Portal (on or before April 9, 2013) is a good first step. (Select Food and Nutrition Services from the agency drop-down menu and, in the docket ID column of the search results, select FNS-2011-0019.)

If we care about smart snacks at school, here’s what I believe we all need to do:

  • Support  a culture of wellness in your local district, for example, by serving a School Health Advisory Council (SHAC) or helping with a HUSSC application.
  • Use smart strategies to inspire, motivate and educate everyone in schools about smart snacks for reasons they care about, because not everyone is focused on childhood obesity:
    • Make smart snacks about fun and great taste for kids.
    • Make smart snacks about fitness and sports success for coaches, athletes and boosters clubs.
      • Make smart snacks about learning and behavior for classroom teachers and administrators.
      • Make smart snacks about successful fundraisers that make money for clubs and organizations.
      • Make smart snacks the cool thing to do at school rather than something that the government is making us do!!
    • Fruit Snack sold at West High Track Meet concessions in Billings, Montana

      Fruit Snack sold at West High Track Meet concessions in Billings, Montana