Want Healthier Kids? Get Involved in Your Community
You serve healthy foods at home and teach your kids to make smart food choices. But do you know what your child eats at school?
"What's available in school can be a barrier to students practicing healthy eating," says Martha Kubik, Ph.D., an assistant professor in the University of Minnesota School of Nursing who has studied school lunch options. "What we've found is that in schools that offer a la carte programs, the students eat fewer fruits and vegetables and report higher fat intakes when compared to schools without a la carte programs."
On a la carte menus, each item is sold separately. Dr. Kubik says such menus tend to favor high-fat, less nourishing items. She encourages parents to ask their children what they eat for lunch and what foods their schools offer.
But don't stop there. "My experience with schools is that they welcome parent involvement," Dr. Kubik says.
To fight the harmful rise of obesity in the young, many schools, towns and states are revamping food and fitness programs, often at parents' urging.
Across the nation, parents have joined drives to revamp school lunch programs, bring breakfast to classrooms, put healthy choices in school vending machines, start sports leagues and restore physical education in schools. If you'd like to help, here are two places to start:
Team Nutrition, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Food and Nutrition Service, helps schools meet new lower fat and sodium guidelines. At the website, check out "School Lunches, Smart Yet Satisfying: 10 Steps for Parents" and a "Guide to Local Action."
Action for Healthy Kids promotes school food and fitness efforts to boost health and educational performance. Learn what programs your state offers and how to join your state team at the website. You can also find tools like the "What's Working Database."
At home, parents should limit the amount of time spent watching television, playing video games and using the computer (other than time for homework) to no more than an hour a day.