Putting Health Back into School

The alarming statistics on childhood obesity in this country make the headlines weekly. While we all try to provide our children the healthiest diets we can, today’s children are usually "eating out" more than eating at home, and sometimes we feel that we have no control over their habits when they are not with us.

As a practicing chiropractor, helping my family make healthy choices is a top priority. When my son entered sixth grade, he began eating at the school cafeteria. As he told us about his meals, we became more and more concerned; while some of the lunch options were passable, we learned, that as in most schools today, the children also had open access to vending machines and snacks that included sodas, candy, cookies, and pastries.

While I know that it’s seldom easy to "fight the system," I became determined to make some changes, or at the very least, to make sure my concerns were heard. After approaching some of the other parents, I realized that I was not alone. Parents, teachers, and administrators were concerned as well. We met with the school administrators, and then with the cafeteria manager, and eventually with the food vendors. We also circulated a questionnaire to the student body. Our mutual goal was to find healthier alternatives that students enjoyed and that fit the school budget. In the end, the vendor, Sodexho, hosted a food tasting that met our criteria. We were able to increase the healthy options offered and increase the overall selection. Instead of sugared sodas, flavored waters and smoothies were offered. Power bars, yogurt, and granola bars were added instead of candy bars. The lunch menu was expanded with salads, healthy hot meals, and sandwiches that included vegetables, whole wheat, and more fresh foods.

As parents, we all rest easier, and our children enjoy their meals more than before. We – school officials, vendors, and parents – are confident that we are helping our children develop healthy eating habits that will follow them throughout their lives.

What Can You Do?

  • Enlist the assistance of other parents – your Parent-Teacher Association or Mother’s Auxiliary are both good places to start. You may be surprised at how many parents feel the same way you do, but don’t know how to start the process.
  • Utilize the "parent experts" on your committee; in addition to myself, we had pediatricians, academics, and business experts on our team, which lent credibility to our concerns.
  • Understand the position of your school administrators; they are under terrific budget pressures and have our children’s welfare at heart.
  • The entire menu can’t be overhauled overnight, but small changes can make a significant difference.
    • Substitute waters, smoothies and fruit juices for sugared sodas
    • Add healthy snack alternatives instead of candy – yogurt, power bars, and granola mix are a great start
    • Substitute whole grain breads, pita, or even whole wheat tortillas for white bread in sandwiches. It adds variety in addition to being healthier.
    • Add fresh fruit as a dessert or snack alternative.
    • Substitute ground turkey or chicken for ground beef in recipes.
  • Get the students involved in the process.