Update February 2019: This program is no longer active but information here can be still be valuable.
In this five part series, Community Commons highlights the successes of the Ohio Department of Health’s Creating Healthy Communities (CHC) program. CHC aims to increase health and prevent chronic diseases in 16 Ohio counties through policy, system, and environmental changes.
Related CHC Articles:
- Improving Food Pantry Options
- Obesity Prevention Starts Early in Ohio
- National Resources Lead to Active Communities in Ohio
- Ohio Grow the Seeds of Good Health
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) has a significant impact on the health of America’s school children. Serving over 31 million students a day, the meals often account for more than half of all daily calories consumed by children.
Improving the nutrition of foods served to Ohio students has been an important part of the CHC program. The unique approaches Montgomery, Trumbull, and Marion Counties used in 2012 impacted thousands of children by increasing their access to healthy, nutritious meals and snacks.
An Innovative Approach to Healthier School Meals
With nearly half of the children ages 5-17 in Montgomery County eligible for free or reduced school lunch, nutritious meals can have a significant impact on health in this community. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 sets guidelines for those meals, but districts often face challenges in implementing them.
CHC and Ohio Action for Healthy Kids came together to host the Simply Balanced: Nutritious School Lunches Made Easy Summit to train and encourage school food service personnel to implement the changes.
Outcomes from the summit include:
- increase in amount and variety of fruits and vegetables served
- recipe make-overs to cut calories and sodium
- tasting days to introduce new foods before they become regular menu items
CHC will continue to provide resources and support for the districts by assisting in the implementation of the new breakfast standards for 2013-2014 and by maintaining a network to share success stories.
The Students are Customers at Warren City School’s Cafeteria
Trumbull County also has a high number of students that receive free and reduced lunch. In 2012, as low as 30% of high school students were eating the meals provided and obesity was increasing at an alarming rate. With help from CHC, a coalition was formed in Warren City to look into the issue and make recommendations.
Overcoming public reaction to new, healthier foods in this low-income community was difficult, but persistence paid off. The district held a conference for food service personnel to improve and better market school lunch. They also hired a chef to revise the menu and bring in new options. A partnership with a local food co-op and a community garden was formed to help bring in fresh, local produce and support the local economy. The schools also eliminated al a-carte lines, which were often stocked with unhealthy items. Now 85% of high school students consume a healthy school lunch each day.
A Healthier Way to Celebrate
School lunches may be improving, but the benefits can be negated if students are given unhealthy food rewards and sugar-filled celebration snacks. Marion County looked into system change as another way to improve school foods.
In 2012, the Marion County Public Schools and two other districts within the county adopted a wellness policy that included Guidelines for Healthy Celebrations and Classroom Rewards. The guidelines offer suggestions for non-food rewards such as outdoor games, pedometers, time for music and dancing, and a fun walk. Healthier snack ideas include granola bars, yogurt parfaits, smoothies, or chips and salsa instead of candy or baked goods.
The guidelines also address fundraising options, such as flower bulbs, picture frames, and movie passes instead of selling candy bars, popcorn, or other junk-food. For classroom celebrations, there are suggestions for focusing more on activities and games instead of food.
As a result, schools now have a tool to make healthier choices for students and some schools have declared themselves “cupcake-free zones.”