Expanding Access to Healthy Foods and Teaching Healthy Habits during National Nutrition Month and Beyond

March 19, 2018

By Nancy Brenowitz Katz, Director of School Partnerships, Alliance for a Healthier Generation

March is National Nutrition Month, which makes it a great time to highlight the role that schools and out-of-school time (OST) sites play in providing nutritious food and teaching students to make healthy choices. This is especially critical in high-need communities, where many students consume two to three of their daily meals at school, have limited access to nutritious food, and are at higher risk for hunger and diet-related chronic diseases. Additionally, research shows that healthy kids learn better.

Since 2005, the Alliance for a Healthier Generation (Healthier Generation) has worked with schools and OST sites across the nation to ensure that the meals and snacks they serve support good health and appeal to students. Healthier Generation’s Smart Foods Planner was created to highlight healthier products and provide menu and recipe ideas for operators. A partnership with Amazon Business is breaking down additional access barriers by making healthier options more readily available. Anti-hunger champions are also essential partners in our work.

In Brandon Valley School District in South Dakota, for example, members of the local wellness committee noticed that students were bringing snacks to school that did not align with the district’s commitment to nutrition. Since some students boarded the bus as early as 7 a.m. and did not eat lunch until 12:30 p.m., the district wanted to ensure students were getting the nutrition they needed to stay focused in the classroom. Child Nutrition Director Gay Anderson and her staff piloted a second chance breakfast program at the district’s largest elementary school. Anderson quickly saw success, and her staff worked to expand the program to four more campuses the following year. “We went from serving about 225 breakfasts per day to just shy of 700,” she said.

“Just like it’s important to teach students where they come from, we also need to teach them where their food comes from,” said Superintendent Tim Lutz of Kelliher School District. For five years, Kelliher students have taken an active role in the district’s garden program. Teachers incorporate the garden into their lesson plans and students help harvest vegetables. In addition to providing a hands-on nutrition lesson, the vegetables are used on the cafeteria’s salad bar. According to Lutz, “incorporating gardening and farm to school is one of our most successful ways of educating our students about healthy diets.”

In partnership with the National Recreation and Park Association, over 1,600 recreation sites across the country have implemented healthy eating and enrichment activities. Their Foods of the Month curriculum, which includes fun videos and free printables, is one example of a tool linking wellness, nature, and nutrition that any youth-serving organization can access.

Follow along on Twitter @HealthierGen as we celebrate #NationalNutritionMonth and share tips, resources, and stories about schools and OST sites creating healthy environments for kids.

Healthier Generation works with youth-serving organizations across the nation to ensure that they  support and promote good health. In addition, they work with the business sector to ensure that children and their families have access to healthy and affordable food and access to health-care services for obesity prevention. Their goal as an organization is to create systemic change, change that is not isolated to one home, or community, to one school, industry, or state. They want to create healthy changes that build upon one another and create a system, a nation, that makes the healthy choice the easy choice. For more information, please contact Nancy Brenowitz Katz.