If I asked your kids to choose three options for lunch from the following canteen menu, what do you think they would select?
Sandwiches and sushi or meat pies and sausage rolls?
Carrots and celery sticks with hummus or hot chips and sauce?
Freshly cut fruit and yoghurt or lollies and chocolates?
We know what we’d like them to select – most of the time – but often the temptation of choice and the allure of treat foods can be hard for small children to resist.
Research shows that the food choices schools and sports clubs have on offer actually influence a child’s choices outside of this environment.
While a few ‘sometimes foods’ here and there can be part of a balanced diet, frustrated mums often ask me how they can influence the food culture at their school canteen or sports club tuckshop to have a positive impact on their kids.
Here are some useful tips for influencing the food culture at your school or sports club …
How to influence the food culture of your school or sports club
Take slow steps and get others involved and onside!
Remember, people can be resistant to change and sensitive when it comes to diet – but if you involve them they become your ambassadors and not your enemies.
Speak to the school or club’s administration about their dietary standards.
If these don’t exist, ask if you’re able to help form a committee to establish standards designed to improve the health, scholastic/sporting performance and wellbeing of the kids. From my experience, a policy based on education and support is going to create a positive food culture.
Start with small changes
As a quick and easy change, focus on increasing the availability of wholefoods and decreasing processed foods on canteen menus. Small tweaks can go a long way.
Why not increase the amount of fresh fruit and veg that is available and market them by having fresh choices on display. Make posters promoting fresh food choices and make them look appealing.
If possible, include regular healthy eating tips in school and club newsletters helping parents pack nutritious snacks at home. See my 3,2,1, GO formula which takes the decision making and balance easy! Food policing and alienating parents (whilst might have good intentions) isn’t creating a supportive environment.
It is hard not to feel a little overwhelmed by the enormous amount of food advertising there is aimed at our kids, so it’s important to takes charge where we can as parents or leaders in places of learning and recreation to role model healthier food choices.
Remember, food education starts at home. Where possible we should encourage our children to drink water over store-bought beverages.
Schools and community sports club environments as places for learning, but so far only a small number of schools and clubs have played major roles in nutrition advocacy.
Thankfully, we are seeing a shift in this space and seeing more schools and clubs support children’s food literacy and creating a positive food culture.
1. Change is possible to improve the food culture of a school
2. Leadership is required but foremost community engagement is essential to ensure sustainable change
3. Be creative and make it fun
Little changes can go a long way, especially if you can find like-minded parents or co-workers willing to join your cause for a better food culture.