Last week, a photo comparison of school lunches from around the world began making the rounds online. Here’s a great slideshow to show your students. When you look at how we’re stacking up in the states compared to other countries, it’s pretty dismal.
But it doesn’t have to be.
It might be a long journey, but getting the kids directly involved can lead to a quicker change. And If you’re looking to incorporate real-life learning into your health class, then why not start in your own cafeteria?
Regardless of the cafeteria provider that your school is working with, there’s always room for improvement. Find out from the kids what they think of the choices currently available, and have them come up with suggestions for healthy options that they’ll actually enjoy.
A great way to kick off the project is by watching this awesome documentary from HBO about the Rethinkers, a group of students in New Orleans who set out to get fresh, healthy food in their schools as they were rebuilding after Hurricane Katrina.
Not only is this film great for a nutrition unit, but these kids serve as an excellent example of advocacy and goal setting as well. They use effective communication skills, and set a goal that was measurable and realistic. In fact, these kids nail almost all of the National Health Education Standards within the course of this 30-minute documentary.
It can spark a great discussion about what’s happening in your cafeteria, and whether or not there could be some improvements made.
After watching the film, we usually take the students over to the cafeteria with a survey sheet, and have them answer some questions and see whether or not they can balance out their food choices.
It’s one thing for us as health teachers to bug the cafeteria provider about healthy choices—it’s another thing when a group of 11-year-olds with clipboards start checking things out.
This sheet was made especially for our cafeteria, but feel free to use it as a template and create one for your own. It’s a great formative assessment to gauge how passionate the students are about the project and how much they actually know about nutrition already.
We’re lucky at our school—we’ve got a great salad bar, and lots of different options for balance. We’re also K-12, so we’re able to take the 6th graders over to observe the high school kids eating lunch. Wait… they eat their veggies? I want to eat my veggies too!
The sad fact is though, that the many other schools aren’t so lucky. If your school is one of them, hopefully this film and activity will inspire your students to ask for healthier choices. The online campaign, Fed Up, from the ever-awesome DoSomething.org, is a great place to start.
It’s full of resources, including The Advocacy Kit, which gives students step-by-step instructions on how to bring about change. It’s got tips, checklists, and even suggestions for best practice, like “Be positive” and “Respect whomever you are speaking with.”
If you can get the kids excited about it, this is a way to hit a majority of the skills-based standards (communication, goal-setting, advocacy) while making the content relevant to every single one of them.
When they’re able to see the impact of their actions (ours got to have a tasting with the cafeteria manager to test out some of their suggestions), then they feel inspired to take on other causes, hopefully sparking a passion for advocacy.
Of course, we’ll have wait and see what the high school students think about that new whole-wheat pizza crust first…
For more on the current cafeteria situation in the states, check out the following articles:
NPR May 20, 2014: Law Makers seek Delay on Healthy Lunch Options for school
About the author: Amy teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. She has presented at conferences in Asia as well as the AAHPERD and SHAPE America National Conventions. You can access her blog and resources at thehealthteacher.com and find her on twitter at @teaching_health.