Improve Student Nutrition: What Your PTA Can Do
Research has shown that students who eat a healthy diet perform better at school. PTAs can have a significant, positive impact on student learning by advocating for healthier food options during the school day and taking good nutrition into account when planning PTA fund raisers and events.
One of the best ways that schools support student nutrition is by participating in the Federal School Meals programs. Find out whether your school is part of these programs; if not, work with your school and district administration to encourage their participation: http://www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/
The following are other ways your PTA can help improve nutrition at your school:
Promote the new food guidelines in effect thanks to the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010. These guidelines will help schools provide better nutrition and reduce obesity.
- Find out what school meals are like by volunteering during meal times, eating lunch with your children, or reviewing school menus.
- If you see something that doesn't fit with the new guidelines, share the USDA's information with school leaders.
- Point your school's food service staff toward technical assistance and training opportunities (e.g., USDA's Best Practices Sharing Center or National Food Services Management Institute ).
- Consider joining your school district's Local Wellness Committee to be a part of the team that implements these changes.
- Offer to organize a taste test for new, healthier recipes and foods. Talk to kids about why it is important to eat these new foods: "They will make you BIG, STRONG, and SMART!"
- Publicly support your school if they have adopted established nutritional standards for their National School Lunch and Breakfast programs. Thank school leaders and food service personnel for helping your child and every child to be healthier and stronger.
Encourage your school to participate in other national efforts to improve school nutrition, including:
Go on a "fact-finding mission" around your school:
- What other foods compete with the nutritious foods available through the school meals program? How many vending machines are there, and what do they contain? What foods are for sale in your school store? (Consider replacing junk foods with healthier choices such as bottled water, 100% juice, yogurt and fruit.)
- Meet with food service staff to learn about their daily challenges in preparing healthy meals for students. Ask for their suggestions for improvements.
- Find out how nutrition is covered in the school's health curriculum. What messages are students receiving? Are they getting the latest guidance , or does it need to be updated?
- Check out the cafeteria: Is it a nice place to eat? Do visuals promote healthy eating? If not, ask the principal's permission to paint a colorful mural or post student artwork featuring healthy foods.
- Be sure to get ideas from the students, too! Find out how they feel about what time they eat lunch, how much time they have to eat, how the food tastes, and what they would like to see changed.
- Once you have gathered all of your information, request a meeting with the principal to discuss possible improvements to your school's "nutrition environment."
Give your fund raisers and other PTA events a healthy makeover:
- Sell fruit (citrus or other in-season fruit), gift wrap, or other items rather than candy or baked goods for school fund raisers.
- Invite chefs from local restaurants to donate healthy hors d'oeuvres and desserts for a "Taste of [Your Town]" event. Charge for admission.
- For class "spirit" and other competitions, provide healthy rewards (extra recess) or nonfood items instead of candy, doughnuts, and pizza parties.
- Sell bottled water and healthy treats (rice cakes, popcorn, fruit) instead of candy and soda at PTA events.
- For more ideas, see this tip sheet from the Center for Science in the Public Interest:
Make the "healthy lifestyles" message part of everything your PTA does:
- Consider making Healthy Lifestyles Month [link] an annual PTA event.
- Make healthy lifestyles a regular feature during your PTA meetings, or devote one meeting to exploring what your PTA can do.
- Point parents to the Healthy Homes [link] section of the National PTA website. Feature content from this section regularly in your newsletter or on your website.