Serving up more than food during school lunch

Healthy Eating Coaches encourage students to try new menu items.

Healthy eating has always been a priority for Grand Rapids Public Schools (GRPS). The district’s menu is a testament, as you will find fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils and other interesting dishes served to the district’s 18,000 students. However, simply putting the food on the tray is only half the battle. It does no good if it does not end up in students’ bellies!

Amy Klinkoski, GRPS Nutrition Services Coordinator had an idea though – why not do some serious education and encouragement at the point of sale, and while students are eating lunch? With the help of Michigan State University Extension staff, this idea was formulated into a project called Healthy Eating Coaches. Utilizing the OrganWise Guys curriculum and Food of the Month program, volunteers from MSU Extension, Kent County Health Department, parents, school staff and various other community members are present in lunchrooms all over the district each Wednesday. Specific foods are highlighted each month and talking points are given to the Healthy Eating Coaches. The key is the student and coach interaction. Using positive language to talk about the foods being served, and being able to ask questions about new foods creates a safe place for students to try new things. If one student at a table will try a new food, chances are more students will follow.

Nutrition education is being taught in many classrooms around GRPS by MSU Extension and the YMCA of Greater Grand Rapids. The district’s physical education teachers are also using the OrganWise Guys visuals and messages to support lunchroom messaging and physical activity. Having a Healthy Eating Coach in the lunchroom each week reinforces what students are being taught in the classroom, and it gives them the opportunity to apply the skills being taught – such as making healthy choices.

All too often the school lunch is overlooked or pushed aside, by both students and adults. However, it is so much more than just serving student’s food. It can be a place for students to learn experientially, while feeding their brain important nutrients that will help them become the best student they can be.

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