What Are Your Kids Eating at School?

Want to make changes in your kid's school cafeteria? Get inspired by these school-based programs and grants.

Obesity in children has garnered a lot of attention lately, and you only have to look at an elementary school playground to see why. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) reports that obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years among the 6- to 19-year-old population.

These children are more likely than their normal-weight peers to have high cholesterol, high blood pressure, sleep apnea and bone and joint problems, not to mention the psychological trauma that can occur from teasing. Since obese kids have a greater chance of becoming obese grownups, they’re also at greater risk of having heart disease, diabetes and some types of cancer as adults.

At home, you know what to do to help your kids maintain a healthy weight: Serve nutritious family meals that include whole grains, lean proteins and hearty servings of fruits and vegetables. But when they're not with you, it's harder to control what your children eat.

Educating children now about how to adopt and maintain a healthy diet, and encouraging them to get fit and stay active, will give them a set of invaluable tools for life. There’s a lot parents can do to increase health awareness in children from the get-go — but schools can help too. Check out the programs that are meeting this challenge head-on, then bring them to the attention of your board of education today.

Get Moving with the Let’s Move! Campaign
Started by First Lady Michelle Obama, the campaign is aimed at combating childhood obesity in the US. The campaign encourages everyone and anyone – parents, teachers, government officials on all levels, child caregivers, etc. – to get involved by helping kids to increase their physical activity, by making school food more nutritious and by making healthy food more affordable and accessible to all. The Let’s Move! Website provides links to a wide-range of programs and ideas to help achieve these goals. It also serves as a meeting spot for groups of people to join together and engage in activities offline.

View a Virtual Lunch Box
Chef Ann Cooper, A.K.A. the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” has teamed up with Whole Foods Market to create a school nutrition resource aimed at transforming school lunches into healthy, wholesome meals. The F3 Foundation (Food/Family/Farming) is responsible for the Lunch Box Program and provides many free resources such as recipes, menu plans, training videos and budget analysis models to help you implement change in your own school cafeteria. Chef Cooper has also recently launched a program advocating the addition of salad bars in school cafeterias across the country.

Get gardening
Early Sprouts, a 24-week early childhood program based on a “seed to table” curriculum, encourages preschool-age children and their families to plant and care for gardens to help foster a love and understanding of healthy eating. The program includes directions for gardening, kid-friendly recipes and ways to help make healthy eating a family affair.

Bring in a health-minded theater troupe
Food Play’s live, national theater productions teach children about healthy eating and exercise habits in an interactive, entertaining manner that includes music, magic, juggling and more. Food Play also produces videos and DVDs, free school worksheets and other resources to help children make healthier choices.

Get physical with PlayRugbyUSA
It might not be as common a US sport as baseball and basketball but rugby is extremely popular all over the world. And now it’s making headlines as an after-school program in urban areas to help fight obesity and give children of all socioeconomic backgrounds a chance at quality sports education. Important principles such as teamwork, nutrition and healthy eating are also part of the program’s goals.

Hook up with the NFL
The National Dairy Council and National Football League (NFL) launched a youth-led fitness and wellness program in more than 60,000 American schools in the 2009-2010 school year. The program, Fuel Up To Play 60, focuses on ways to get an hour of physical activity every day and how to make healthier food choices. Participating schools receive resources to help them implement and personalize the program.

Join the Alliance for a Healthier Generation
This partnership between the American Heart Association and the William J. Clinton Foundation focuses on educating and empowering students and schools to improve school lunch programs and promote exercise. The Alliance is a wonderful resource offering free tips and tools to help facilitate change. Their Healthy School Program is currently in use by more than 9,000 US schools.

Take part in a 1-day nationwide or worldwide fitness event
Each May, children from the US and 50 other countries participate in the “world’s largest exercise class” to show their dedication to physical fitness. Project ACES — All Children Exercise Simultaneously — was founded by phys ed teacher Len Saunders more than 20 years ago, and since then he has launched two other exercise programs: PACES Day — Parents and Children Exercise Simultaneously — promotes family exercise on Saturdays, and Exercise US is a new program in which kids will participate in 10 hours of nonstop exercise on the same day, completed by participants in 15-minute segments.

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