Recently, it's become common to see pictures of school meals shared online that students and parents deem unacceptable. Or, to see an article that negatively compares American school lunches to those from other countries. Unfortunately, this trend perpetuates an already dangerous, false stigma that all American school lunches are unacceptable. And we know that's not the case!
Parents want to be assured that their students are served healthy, delicious meals at school, but may be wary if that is actually the case based on content they see online. Combating this negative stigma can be difficult, but it's become a necessary battle for school nutrition departments across the country.
Here are a few tips that can help you get upset parents on board with schools meals:
Get Parents Involved
Create an environment that encourages parents to get involved with schools meals. Many parents have an interest in getting involved and a desire to make an impact in their student’s life.
Ask if your school’s PTO, PTA, or Wellness Committee would allow you to speak at their next meeting. This will give you a chance to let parents know about your operation, why you love what you do, and any struggles your program may be facing. Let them know how they can help and encourage them to get involved.
The School Nutrition Association has a great page available to parents about ways they can get involved. Take some time to review their suggestions and see if there's any you'd like to share with your district’s parents.
Some schools utilize parent volunteers in the cafeteria to:
- Help students through the line
- Encourage kids to choose healthy food options
- Teach younger students how to properly use utensils and avoid spilling
You can also utilize online programs like MySchoolBucks that allows parents to see exactly what their students are purchasing. For parents that are concerned about the selections that their students are making in the serving line, this sort of visibility is invaluable.
Invite parents to experience school meals first hand with fun events that showcase your program. You could plan events like:
- Take Your Parent To Lunch Day
Invite parents to join their students for lunch! This gives parents an opportunity to experience lunch with their child and see the choices they make in the line.
- National School Lunch Week
Spread the news about how your program celebrates National School Lunch Week. This week-long event is a celebration of the school lunch program. Cafeterias across the country decorate their lunch rooms and plan events that get students excited about school meals. It's the perfect time to bring parents into the fun!
- Taste Tests
Setup taste testing days for both students and parents to provide feedback on new or existing meals. Students will like being able to help pick the items they'll see in the serving line and parents like knowing fresh, healthy options are available to their kids. Use taste testing scorecards to help evaluate what options are most popular.
- Cooking Competitions
Engage students and parents in the cooking process! Hold cooking competitions to give students the opportunity to learn a new skill, work as a team, and develop meals for the cafeteria. Initiatives like Cooking Up Change have worked with school districts to bring a love for cooking, health, and learning into the cafeteria. Involve parents in programs like this to show how your program values health and education.
- Rainbow Days
Coordinate a Rainbow Day where parents or parent volunteers help students learn about the importance of fruits and veggies. Perfect for younger students, Rainbow Days are designed to get kids excited about salad bars and teach them to build colorful, healthy meals.
Or create your owned themed day to bring parents and students together over school meals.
Educate & Inform
"It’s harder to change preferences than to form them” says Leann Birch, a development psychologist at the University of Georgia in Athens “The reality is kids learn to eat what their parents eat, and if kids are getting something different at school, then it’s not surprising they aren’t eating it.”
Become a thought leader in your community for nutrition and healthy eating to help combat any bad habits that may be reinforced outside of the cafeteria:
- Work with the health teachers at your school to intertwine their nutrition curriculum with food service in the cafeteria
- Partner with a school club to offer cooking lessons to students after school to teach kids about preparing, choosing, and building healthy meals
- Post parent newsletters to your school's website, main office, or the back of your school menus to be a resource for tips on nutrition and healthy living
You can also work to inform parents about the complexities of the school nutrition landscape. Most parents are not aware of the regulations and guidelines that school nutrition programs must ahere to. Help explain to them how school nutrition programs work. One of our fellow Heartlanders went about explaining school nutrition with something as simple as a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
Share, Share, Share
Does your school have a newsletter, blog, or any social media accounts? Share pictures of your schools meals on your nutrition program’s Facebook page, provide a guest blog post about your school's nutrition program, showcase videos of your program's events on YouTube, or tweet about nutrition tips on Twitter.
The best way to counteract these negative stories and not-so-nice pictures is to share your programs successes! So, fill your social media timelines with positive stories and pictures, like these popular school district nutrition Facebook pages.
In the age of social media where the tendency towards sharing extreme negatives is common, it’s important to counter that noise with all the positive work your program is doing everyday!
Has your school had challenges with negative views from parents? Share with us how you’ve helped bring parents into the process of providing healthy school meals.