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Jason Bethke

By Jason Bethke

Promoting Health and Nutrition in Schools

01/14/13


A mecca for swarms of hungry students, the school cafeteria often provides a significant portion of a child's daily meals. As health and nutrition are becoming more important factors in determining the foods cafeterias offer, communities can integrate with United Way campaigns that are aimed to provide more accessible options for healthy eating in schools and educate children on the importance of proper nutrition.

In the United States, more than two-thirds of adults and children are overweight or obese. Not only is this a physical health concern, but it can be crucial to the development of healthy mindsets. United Way recognizes the significance of educating parents on healthy options available to them as well as how to teach their children about nutritional foods. Children who enjoy eating healthily are often taught early on about the nutrients and vitamins they can get from different food groups and encouraged to cook.

One of the greatest obstacles in eating healthy food can be a lack of accessibility. Families may choose to buy less healthy food because it is more available or less expensive than junk foods. Communities that recognize this imbalance can initiate campaigns like food drives to donate healthy foods to low-income households. In this United Way Charting a Course for Change report, tax incentives have been identified as an option for helping lower-cost groceries to appear in communities. Naturally, this would make healthy produce more widely accessible for everyone. Communities can put into action plans that would increase the accessibility of healthy foods in school cafeterias and make these options more affordable, while lowering the amount of junk food available to children.

Health and nutrition don't end at the dinner table. Part of a healthy lifestyle that is especially important to develop in the school years is physical activity. Organized sports at school combined with physical activity at home is integral in teaching children the importance of exercise and healthy living. Even more so, being active requires children to eat well. Education at school, at home, and in community centers can solidify the understanding that vegetables, fruits, and whole grains are a superstar athlete's best friend. If children enjoy going for hikes, riding their bicycle, or doing other independent sports, parents can find creative ways to make healthy eating a priority that will help them enjoy their exercise even more.

There are many opportunities in every community to encourage children's understanding of health and nutrition. Schools tend to be a primary source of information, through both clubs and the classroom. The most important thing about healthy living, however, is to enjoy it. If families, friends, and peers enjoy coming together to cook and share healthy eating experiences, children are more likely to absorb a mutual love for it and pass it on to others.

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