Is your child a healthy eater at school?
I remember putting so much energy into creating a healthy eating atmosphere at home. But only to open my daughter’s lunch box after school and see she’s eaten everything – except the fruits or veggies.
Research tells us time and time again that educators, school cafeteria staff, and school administrators have a valuable role in the school meal environment. Both in terms of the social and physical environment and how it supports healthy eating at school.
And that when kids eat well at school, they do better academically, behaviorally, cognitively, and socially.
So I thought it would help to consolidate some of the education and nutrition research, and share some tips you can use (or share with your school) to help raise healthy eaters. So students can truly thrive in school.
4 Ways to Promote Healthy Eating in Schools
1. Focus on Encouragement
Educators and cafeteria staff are instrumental in creating a positive school meal environment. Their role extends beyond academic responsibilities to influence students’ attitudes toward food and nutrition. The use of encouragement and praise by teachers and staff members has the potential to significantly impact students’ food choices.
When educators express approval for healthy eating habits, it not only boosts students’ self-esteem but also contributes to a supportive atmosphere around mealtime. This positive reinforcement helps shape a school culture that prioritizes well-being, fostering lasting, positive relationships between students and their food choices.
2. Put Healthy Foods Front and Centre
There’s a tendency to lean toward food restriction strategies to get our kids to eat better, especially at home (e.g. “no more bread for you”). However, research shows that instead of restricting options, schools should present more healthy options in cafeterias and vending machines.
Making healthy eating options more readily available (compared to nutrient-lacking options), is an important factor in determining consumption of fruit and vegetables at school, for both those meals prepared in school and those brought from home.
3. Educate Parents on Healthy Lunch Ideas
Collaboration between schools, parents, and students is vital for promoting children’s health. Schools should actively engage with parents and children to raise awareness of what constitutes a healthy lunch.
Recent research focusing on children aged 5-11 in England revealed a significant nutritional disparity between home-packed lunches and school-provided meals. This emphasizes the need for schools to take the lead in educating parents about nutrition and helping them prepare balanced lunches for their children.
Also even more alarming is that nearly 67% of the average child’s diet is ultra-processed foods. SIXTY SEVEN percent! I’m all for the odd convenience snack, but when we see the majority of lunch boxes, or snacks consist of packaged options, it’s an opportunity to support parents. So they can ensure their children have the foods and nutrients they need to thrive in school, stay focused, and eat well.
4. Involve Students in the Food Journey
To truly captivate the enthusiasm of children when it comes to healthy eating, consider immersing them in a holistic experience that revolves around food – from its growth to the table. By involving kids in the entire process of food, you’re not just nourishing their bodies but also fostering a deeper connection.
This approach taps into what psychologists call the “IKEA effect”. Similar to the sense of accomplishment and pride derived from assembling a piece of furniture, involving children in the journey of their food imparts a heightened appreciation.
When kids actively participate in growing, preparing, and consuming meals within a context that aligns with their cultural experiences, they develop a positive bond with the food on their plate. This hands-on involvement can instill a lasting appreciation for the effort that goes into producing food, and thus a positive relationship with nutrition.
Healthy Eating in Schools: The Bottom Line
As schools, parents, and educators collaborate, a comprehensive approach to school nutrition can be established. Multi-component interventions, combining improved food access, integrated education, and parental engagement, consistently show strong positive effects on children’s healthy eating and dietary habits.
Together we can pave the way for healthy eating in schools among students, and a positive relationship with food.
Consider sharing this valuable insight with your school to contribute to healthier choices for our future generation.
Want Danielle to present to your school?
Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org and she would be honoured to enlighten your community. Virtual or in-person workshops available!