Our kids spend most of their waking life at school, so the food they encounter there can have a real impact on their health. If you’re feeling concerned about some aspect of your child’s school food environment—take action!
Here are some general tips for effective school food advocacy:
Keep your cool. Food is an emotional issue for most people, and questioning how someone feeds the children in their care can touch on all kinds of sensitivities. So no matter how annoyed or angry you may feel about junk food at your child’s school, first take a deep breath! Remember that the teacher passing out candy rewards or the PTA member advocating for junk food fundraising likely lacks nutrition education, but they don’t mean any actual harm. If you can stay calm and polite, you’ll have a better chance of bringing them around to your point of view.
Don’t go it alone. If at all possible, find allies who share your views. One person can be easily dismissed as an outlier, but having just one or two people standing with you—and hopefully many more—will greatly improve your chances of success.
Educate yourself. Before pushing for change, try to understand what purpose is being served by the status quo so you can offer healthy alternatives. For example, if your teacher is using candy rewards to maintain discipline in a classroom of fidgety second graders, you could propose fun “movement breaks” to accomplish the same purpose. Coming to the table with solutions makes you seem like a team player, not an adversary.
Know where to start. Different school food concerns require varying approaches. For example, the cafeteria menu is usually set by the district and is heavily regulated by the federal government. So if you have concerns about the school meal, you’ll have to focus your efforts at a level higher than your individual school. Junk food fundraising might be raised with a principal or your PTA, while classroom treats may be best addressed with your child’s teacher. In all cases, try to start at the bottom and work your way up. For example, if a teacher is regularly using candy as a math teaching tool, raise the issue with her first and move on to the principal only if the teacher is resistant. This way you avoid creating resentment by going over someone’s head without giving them a chance to work with you.
Take the long view. Remember, junk food in schools is symptomatic of much larger societal forces at work, and some communities are far less open to change than others. Be patient, be kind to yourself and regard even small victories as big accomplishments—because they are!
Good luck, and for more information on school food advocacy, please come visit me at The Lunch Tray!