Mmmm... snacks! I was always that kid in elementary school who couldn't wait more than an hour for my next snack or meal break. Between running around on the playground and growing 5 inches taller in one year, it was hard to keep hunger at bay - and I know my experience isn't unique.
When kids and teens are growing and burning off energy in sports and at recess, their appetites can rival a professional athlete's appetite. Grumbling stomachs can be heard in otherwise quiet classrooms, and between classes, you can find students stopping by a vending machine or the student snack store to quiet their appetite.
But are school snack options properly fueling students and their growing muscles? Are the school vending machines stocked with healthy school snacks that will keep students full for more than ten minutes? We've reached the point in time when our food and lifestyles are being critically assessed, and schools are no exception.
With the spotlight on school lunches and their highly debated success rate, there's still one underlying fact that can't be ignored: Eating more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables (while reducing or eliminating soda consumption) is recommended by doctors, and can improve student performance.
So, this is your chance to critically assess the snacks your school is offering in its snack store and vending machines, and to implement gradual healthy changes. If you've been wondering how to help students focus more and develop life-long healthy habits, this is the perfect place to start: Stocking your student snack store and vending machines with healthier options.
In the following three simple steps, I'll outline just how to get started.
1. Ask for input.
You're aware that there could be better options available to students when they're hungry, but how do your students feel?
The quickest way for school food changes to become unpopular is to not ask for student opinions. After all, they're the ones eating the food! Taking a page from Parkside Middle School in Michigan, when Parkside switched to healthier food offerings, the administration sent surveys to staff and students to ask what new food options they wanted to have available to them.
By gathering preliminary survey information, it gives the students an opportunity to have their voices heard, and to be a part of the changes. I think you may even be surprised by their answers!
2. Get students involved.
Going one step further than a student and staff survey is to get students involved in the entire process of improving school snack options. This can be achieved by forming a student committee or inviting students to participate in administrative meetings regarding snack food changes. By getting students involved, you can be sure that your healthier food options will be a student-approved investment worth making.
3. Make gradual changes.
I highly advise against ripping out all of your school's soda machines and throwing out every box of Pop-Tarts today. Students would probably be upset, and rightly so. But changes do have to start somewhere, and I'd invite you to try adding healthier options in, as you slowly phase out processed and sugary snack foods.
By gradually making more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains available, students won't feel ambushed when other, processed, snacks aren't as frequently available. Gradual changes also give the school time to figure out what healthy foods students find appealing, and which foods should not be stocked due to student food allergies. And if your school finds itself short on resources to make all of these healthy snack food changes happen, don't worry. There are grants available to schools to help implement nutritional changes.
When it's all said and done, you can feel proud knowing that your school is part of a nationwide initiative to bring healthier options to students - including school breakfasts, salad bars, recess, and snack foods. Just don't forget to consider food allergies as you plan to make more changes. With a growing number of students affected by peanut, milk, and other severe food allergies, it's important to make sure all students feel safe grabbing a quick snack at school.
For details on how food allergies affect students and children under 18 years old, view this easy-to-read food allergies infographic.