George Lucas Educational Foundation
Family Engagement

Empower Kids to Lead the Charge for Healthy Eating Habits

November 2, 2014

Eating Halloween candy for school lunch.  Having Twinkees during snacktime.  Finishing that bag of chips before starting homework.  Nope, this isn't a litany of my own bad habits -- they're some of the things I see negatively impacting students' ability to learn.  But how can we help parents understand that a few small changes in diet can improve the quality of their child's learning and quality of life?  I'm not just talking about academic success.  Students who drink caffinated sodas before bedtime have difficulty sleeping, therefore affecting the next day.  Students who don't eat snack or have junk food for snack have behavior issues.  They have difficulty listening, making good choices and ultimately they struggle to learn.  

In my school, we use School Wide Activity Period (SWAP) on Friday afternoona to allow for multiage learning and community building.  Every 4-6 weeks our school regroups to engage with learning and community building activities across all grades.  This past round students in K-6 created skits to perform for parents at Open House.  The topics were sleep, exercise, and healthy eating.  

See the sleep group's work here:  http://www.edutopia.org/discussion/empower-kids-lead-charge-healthy-sleep-habits

The healthy eating group created a Family Feud type skit with the Health Nuts family competing against the Chunky Monkeys family.  The entire skit was written and performed by K-6 students.  Through the game show skit the students showed what they had learned about healthy eating.  It wasn't just healthy food, but when less healthy foods can be eaten, in moderation of course.  :)

Our hope was that by having the students share this research with their parents, we can jumpstart a conversations about healthy eating habits at home.  The students have been REALLY engaged with this learning and much of the research has surprised them.  So several weeks after the skits were performed I had a student in grade 2 who was really struggling with behavior issues.  Several days later his mom said to me that her son suggested that he cut out sugar from his diet.  Obviously not all sugar (is that even possible?), but excess sugar.  It was ALL his idea and a result of the work we did on healthy eating.  The results have been astounding.  His behavior in the past three weeks has been significnatly improved.

This got me thinking. We have worked very hard to help parents learn to send in healthier options for parties (notice I said healthier- we don't cut out all junk food- luckily!)   But I still notice during snack time the lunch bags chock full of sugar or unhealthy options.  When I open a lunchbag and Cheetos are the healthiet option out of snickers, gummies, and packaged brownies, then I wonder if parents make the connection between diet and their child's success in school?

So in recent weeks I started having discussions during snack about protien rich "brain foods."  The students now enjoy pointing out that they have brain food that day.  What have you or your school done to help students and parents to understand that good eating habits are vital to student learning and behavior?

This the second of a two-part series on healthy habits. Part one is on healthy sleep habits.

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we've preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer's own.

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