By Matt Reese
Tests, homework, sports, grades, friends, peer pressure, jobs — today’s students have pretty full plates that unfortunately do not often include consideration of the food that is on them.
With deteriorating health in many segments of U.S. society, efforts are being made to bring nutrition closer to the forefront for students. A year ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture published a proposed rule to update the nutrition standards for meals served through the National School Lunch and School Breakfast programs as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. The proposed changes to school meal standards add more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat milk to school meals. Schools would also be required to limit the levels of saturated fat, sodium, calories, and trans fats in meals.
The Ohio Small Grains Marketing Program (OSGMP) decided to take the government’s school food mandates one step further by working with education consultants to change student behaviors and attitudes about their food choices.
“Rather than us writing a curriculum and handing it to them hoping that they would do something with it, we brought a team of teachers together from Mt. Gilead, which was the first school we approached,” said Carol Warkentien, one of the OSGMP education consultants. “We laid out some of the challenges we would be facing if we wanted to bring kids along with this notion.”
The initial meeting led to a decision to consult the students themselves on the best ways to shape their attitudes and behaviors about their foods. Soon, the Mt. Gilead FFA was working to change attitudes about food in the school. The FFA students started by making a video in the school cafeteria.
“The students did a video in their own high school lunchroom and asked other students what they thought about their healthy lunch. Of course there was some hilarity in the interviews, but there is also an awareness of some of the gaps in student knowledge of and understanding about their food,” said Jeanne Gogolski, another OSGMP education consultant working on the project. “One of the prime athletes at the school ate an entire pack of Oreo cookies for lunch. Naturally that produces some conversation about what it takes to have a healthy lunch.”
As a follow up to the video, the Mt. Gilead health class posted some nutrition information in the lunchroom listing the calories in some of the lunch food. The school also had a whole grains taste test event where students rated whole grain snacks and chose their favorites to include on the school menu to help reach the USDA requirements.
The Mt. Gilead FFA students also used their cafeteria video at some events to generate interest from other FFA chapters in their “Food for Thought Challenge.” For the student-created challenge, the OSGMP gave out $500 scholarships to nine Ohio FFA chapters (including Mt. Gilead) to help them develop a nutritional awareness campaign about healthy food choices for their fellow students.
“It is also making a connection with kids about where their food comes from,” Gogolski said. “In Ohio, I think a lot of students don’t realize that we grow wheat and other crops for their food right here.”
Each participating chapter will make a presentation at the Ohio FFA Convention next May and the winning chapter will receive $2,000 from the OSGMP.