Food and beverage companies spent $149 million on in-school marketing campaigns in 2009. Three years later, 51 percent of high schools had company-sponsored vending machines. And almost 66 percent of elementary schools now offer kids coupons for life-shortening, brain-fogging fast-food discounts. Even worse, 19 percent of high schools actually serve branded fast food in their cafeteria on a daily basis.
If you’re a parent who’s vigilant about protecting your children from the hazards of fast food, you basically can’t prevent them from being bombarded with “Eat this junk now!” messages 200 days a year while they’re in school.
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Fight this unhealthy trend and shield your kids from unhealthy school foods by:
- Lobbying school administrators (ask them to act as leaders) for changes
- Working to create other avenues for fundraising, like a family sports day in conjunction with a sport shoe manufacturer
- Empowering your kids to make smart choices—give them cash for meals instead of debit-like cafeteria cards and research shows they will order more health foods and fewer sweets
- Talking regularly to your children about making healthy food choices at school and never giving up the fight to make school a place of learning and good health
Want to make more of an impact?
Whether your school is committed to offering healthy options or has yet to start a health initiative, it's important to address the following:
- Visit the cafeteria. At least once a day, your child eats a meal at school. Do you know what your child's cafeteria looks like? How about what foods they serve? Ask to be taken on a tour of the cafeteria and take note of how the foods are arranged.
- Shift focus away from desserts. It can be hard for even the most health-conscious kid to resist the temptation of sugary treats if they are attractively displayed. Urge the school to help your child make the right choices at lunch by insisting that if desserts are being offered, they be less readily accessible than healthier options. Improving the availability of salads and whole fruit will help make it more appealing.
- Increase fiber options. Fiber is the number-one thing you can add to your child's diet to help fight and prevent obesity. Fiber helps the body digest and feel full faster. Most packaged foods don't contain enough fiber and children need at least 25 grams a day. Petition the school to increase their fiber-rich offerings (i.e. fruits, carrots, celery, whole-grain breads).
- Think beyond the cafeteria. Insist the school considers more than the cafeteria when developing health initiatives. If there are vending machines on or around campus, they pose as much of a threat to your child's health as nutrition-free lunches. Children shouldn't have unfettered access to super-sweet, non-nutritional snacks all day long.
- Try unconventional solutions. Improving the appeal of healthy, nutritious foods may be as simple as improving their quality. If the produce at your school is looking less than fresh, find out if the district can get involved in a farm-to-school program, where farmers deliver fresh, local items to schools.