Shifting attitudes isn’t tough – it’s crazy tough. And when you’re talking about attitudes toward kid snack foods – that is the King of Crazy Tough. I stopped being naive when my son entered public school. My carrot-coated bubble was popped. Hello Doritos, Capri Sun, Fruit Snacks, and stacks of Oreos. This isn’t to slam parents who feed these products to their kids. I don’t blame them. There is a literal mountain of cash poured into marketing nutritionally inferior products to parents and kids. (Read these numbers when you get the time.)
I recently worked with my son’s school to improve the snacking environment for kindergartners. This school keeps kindergartners all day and a nutritious snack is perfectly appropriate. I was prompted to make changes when moms literally followed me across the parking lot to tell me that the snack offerings were cookies. Again.
I heard the same frustration from other parents who saw a continuous flow of processed sweets. You’d think that snack was synonymous with dessert.
The point of overhauling the snack program was to help unify the message for all parents: snacks are fuel for learning. We created a list of suggestions that included fresh things like carrots and apples slices. Nothing crazy and out of reach for regular peeps. We purchased coolers with a grant from Action for Healthy Kids to encourage fresh (perishable) items.
Attached to each cooler is a rotating calendar for students in the class and bilingual Healthy Snack Suggestions (I don’t have the Spanish version on the web yet). We didn’t want to give anyone whiplash. The suggestions are moderate and even include a few processed items like low-sugar cereals. This list of suggestions also shows families that healthier food isn’t isolated to one classroom, it’s the norm in the entire building. Translation: They won’t be scorned if they send in bananas.
The coolers have been in use for two full months and feedback has been great. One classroom teacher reported that her classroom has eaten rainbow carrots, plums, and apples. Another teacher reported grapes. These kinds of reports make me literally jump for joy.
But any new program is bound to have some kinks. Parents mentioned that they weren’t sure how much food to send in for the class. (How big is a serving size for a kindergartner at snack time?) A few mentioned that they couldn’t afford healthy foods. Our classroom teachers mentioned that they needed food to come prepped and ready to eat. They didn’t have time to wash, peel, or prep anything. Thus…. the Smart Snacks Display was born.
We wanted to quickly address these concerns during Teacher Parent Conferences when parents were coming in the building. I wanted parents to be able to see pictures of healthy foods on the board and sample serving sizes at a quick glance. At the end of the day, we all need help redefining snacks for kids. The school environment is a perfect platform for helping this change to happen.
A few Facebook friends wanted to use these signs at their schools. Email me if you want different language on some of the posters. I’d love to help!