Research shows a strong connection between student health and their success in school. Promoting healthy behavior in schools can help youth improve test scores, grades, and attendance. With support from the Statewide Health Improvement Partnership, Living Healthy in Washington County is partnering with schools and districts to ensure all students have the opportunity to be healthy and successful.
Schools in Washington County are applying Smarter Lunchrooms strategies to encourage healthy eating among students. Since 2015, Forest Lake Area Schools have been working to roll-out the evidence-based strategies districtwide. All Nutrition Services employees have attended training to learn about practical techniques to make the healthy choice the easy choice. Cafeterias have been enhanced to nudge students to select and eat nutritious foods. Changes include placing fruits and vegetables front and center in attractive bowls and containers, and using colorful and engaging signage. For the 2017-18 school year, students in two elementary schools also had the opportunity to try new and unique vegetables through tasting events.
Forest Lake Area Schools have used the Smarter Lunchrooms Scorecard to document changes in their school food environment over time. The scorecard assesses a school’s promotion and marketing of healthy foods, as well as the lunchroom atmosphere, and student and school community involvement. Schools with multiple Smarter Lunchrooms strategies in place receive the designation of a bronze, silver, or gold award level school. Since starting their work with Smarter Lunchrooms, all Washington County Schools in the district improved their scores. Additionally, as of May 2017, all schools have received and maintained a silver or gold Smarter Lunchrooms award level.
“Creating smarter lunchrooms was simple and inexpensive,” says Kathy Hoff, Director of Nutrition Services for Forest Lake Area Schools. “The students have reacted in a very positive way by making better choices.”
South Washington County Schools have embraced the University of Minnesota Extension Great Trays curriculum districtwide. Great Trays uses evidence-based practices to improve access to healthy foods in schools. Twenty-five Nutrition Services employees completed the Nutrition Building Blocks for Great Trays course, where they learned about nutrition, strategies to make fruits and vegetables appealing to students, aspects of the serving line that promote healthy food choices and more. All new employees will also receive training.
“The Building Blocks for Great Trays curriculum has been so helpful, especially for our new staff because they are able to understand the why behind everything we do for students,” said Bobbie Jo Grummons Assistant Director, Nutrition Services at South Washington County Schools.
These strategies are being implemented in schools across Washington County. In three districts and two charter schools, Smarter Lunchrooms has reached over 32,000 students. In addition to Smarter Lunchrooms, schools are working on strategies to increase physical activity before, during, and after school. Collectively, these efforts will set students up for success in school and for a lifetime.