Weighing Healthier Options
Concessions, rewards can be healthy, too
by Linda Dawson
Illinois School Board Journal, May/June 2004
Linda Dawson is IASB director of editorial services and Journal editor.
School board members who decide to support healthier food policies for students may look initially at their cafeterias and their vending machines. But while they're reviewing what's served in the lunch line or exchanging bottled water for soft drinks, candy and junk food still may flourish in other areas of the school.
Concession stands are big business at many high school and junior high activities. They allow booster organizations to build up coffers that provide new uniforms, special equipment and end-of-the-year celebrations for students and teachers. They also rely heavily on the staples of soft drinks, candy bars and chips.
Likewise, school fund-raisers - whether sponsored by a student group or parent/booster club - may have students hawking high-calorie items like candy bars, cheesecake, pizzas and summer sausage.
And for younger children, candy, cookies or soft drinks can be given as a reward for good behavior or birthday treats from people they should expect to model healthy lifestyles: parents and teachers.
School boards, while not wanting to play "food police," may want to consider all of these scenarios during policy discussions that look at supporting healthier lifestyles. Do current policies - or lack of a policy - send conflicting messages to students? Can school be a healthier place not only in the cafeteria but in the classroom and fund-raising as well? Is there a way to reward students or help schools raise money that doesn't involve chocolate?
Once these questions are aired, the district could draft a healthy school policy, and then use administrative procedures or student handbook guidelines to offer assistance in compliance.
The December 2003 Robert Woods Johnson Foundation report, Healthy Schools for Healthy Kids , did not offer information on whether schools with more stringent nutrition policies still allow soft drinks at concession stands for athletics. However, the report did offer the following Florida policy that seeks to limit, rather than ban, candy sales during school hours:
" Opelika City School personnel will offer no competitive foods for sale during the school day. Sale of club items by students is discouraged during school hours. It is the intention of the Opelika City Board of Education that students eat well-balanced, nutritional meals in the school cafeteria."
Closer to home, even though it has banned soft drinks from its school vending machines, Mundelein CHSD 120 has not banished soft drinks from concession stands during athletic events, according to Kelley Happ, district spokesperson.
So while not banning soft drinks outright, the board might want to consider a policy that would encourage clubs and organizations that staff concession stands to offer some healthy alternatives: bottled water, 100 percent fruit juices and baked chips.
Even concession stands at professional sports venues are beginning to go beyond the traditional soft drinks, brats and peanuts to give fans some healthier options. In North Carolina, a state-sponsored initiative - Winner's Circle Healthy Dining Program - has succeeded in getting grilled chicken sandwiches, fresh fruit and granola parfaits, garden salads, yogurt and turkey subs on the menu at Durham Bulls baseball games. For fans, healthier choices are easily identified by a "star & fork" logo.
"What we want to do is provide options," Bulls general manager George Hable said in an August 2002 press release. "We're serious about fun food ... but see a growing demand for healthy options. Figuring out how to provide those healthy options is very important to us."
Fund raising options
Many districts look to student and club fund-raisers as a way to provide items in classrooms that might have been eliminated because of budget cuts. While fund-raisers often have sold high-calorie items, a number of options exist for those who would like healthier options.
Some schools already have tried gift/discount card promotions that partner with area businesses. Purchase entitles the cardholder to various promotions, including "buy-one-get-one-free" options on meals or discounts on services, such as oil changes or dry cleaning.
According to nojunkfood.org , other items to consider might be plants, flowers and bulbs; greeting cards or gift wrap; holiday ornaments; school spirit gear; stadium pillows; or license plate holders with the school logo. The Web site offers an extensive list of other ideas for items to sell besides candy and junk food.
Car washes also have been a staple for many years, and add an element of physical activity to the fund-raiser. Other activity-inducing ideas would be to sponsor a bike-a-thon, or a walk-, jump rope- or jog-a-thon; have a skate night, a golf tournament or a bowling night; or even a dance.
Although bake sales have also brought in money for schools, one new twist has been the "virtual" bake sale, which was featured in the Spring 2003 issue of IASB's School Public Relations Service. Instead of asking for baked goods, the flyer that goes home asks parents to make a monetary donation and by-pass the hassle of baking!
Rewards in the classroom as well as birthday treats have long been a source of extra calories. But alternatives exist.
Action For Healthy Kids, a nationwide, non-profit coalition representing education, physical activity, health and nutrition organizations and government agencies, offers a healthy snack idea list, as well as recipes, on its Web site (actionforhealthykids.org/). Healthy snacks might include fresh fruit; pretzels; animal crackers; yogurt; low-fat breakfast or granola bars; or low-fat popcorn.
In lieu of a school snack program organized by the classroom teacher, children at a Montessori school in Birmingham, Alabama, bring their own mid-morning snacks. But these snacks must be from an approved list that is appropriate for different age levels. Teachers must approve any deviation from the list, which includes items such as fresh fruits and vegetables, rice cakes, applesauce, bagels and English muffins.
Teachers looking for classroom rewards may want to look at pencils, stickers or coupons that can be redeemed for small prizes or healthy snacks items like those listed above.
Alternative Fundraising, http://www.nojunkfood.org/fundraising/
Winner's Circle Healthy Dining Program, https://www.forprevention.org/dnn/
Weighing Healthier Options
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