Take a look at your school’s lunchroom. Don’t try this at lunchtime because it’s chaos in there! Come back when it’s quiet. What do you see on the walls? Are there ads for pizza or candy fundraisers? Oversized thermometers to chart the number of juice pouches and chip bags collected? Maybe a poster that says, “the class with the highest cookie dough sales wins an ice cream social!”
Like most PTAs, the Grindstone Elementary PTA has worked (and worked, and worked) to raise money to enhance the student experience. Junk food fundraisers are easy and profitable, so we have traditionally utilized them. We’ve also used food rewards like pizza and ice cream as prizes because they’re cheap, easy, and popular. But what message were we sending our children? Eating pizza helps the school! Bring more potato chips to lunch! Ice cream is the best prize ever!
Now, this post is not anti-ice cream. In moderation, these foods are all okay. But moderation implies balance and the only foods our PTA advertised were, well, junk. There was no promotion of healthy foods to achieve a balance.
Concerned about the unhealthy food messages that my daughter encountered in school, I formed a Healthy Lifestyles Committee to help change our tune. With the aid of PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Grant and Together Counts, we’ve made nutrition education and physical activity priorities in event planning and have ditched a major candy fundraiser.
And what’s on the lunchroom wall these days? A big recognition board with photos of our smiling students munching carrots, green beans, salads, and broccoli. It’s a program that we call Caught Eating a Veggie!
Once a month, I visit the cafeteria to snap pictures of kids eating vegetables. They’re excited to have me “catch” them! I display the photos until the next month to show off their healthy decisions. When the next batch of pictures goes up, the old ones are sent home with this note: “Congratulations! Your student was Caught Eating a Veggie! Grindstone PTA celebrates students making healthy decisions!”
Caught Eating a Veggie! promotes healthy lifestyles and is accessible to all of our kids regardless of age or ability. Will it make our students love veggies? We’ll have to wait and see. In the meantime, the program is cheap, easy, and popular. Try it in your elementary school!
Andi Whitaker is the advocacy chair at Grindstone Elementary PTA in Berea, Ohio.
November is National PTA Healthy Lifestyles Month – a time when PTAs are encouraged to celebrate health and wellness in their schools and communities.