By Caitlin Schudalla
The Norman Transcript
NORMAN — A new school year is an ideal time to re-vamp healthy eating habits for students, and Norman Public Schools Health Coordinator Sunny Miller is a wealth of ideas and information for parents looking to keep kids’ eating habits as healthy as possible.
“Parents should try to think about everything in moderation and when looking at options for kids, it’s OK to have sugar but it needs to be in small amounts. Kids need a little bit of everything,” Miller said. “The key is to keep a close eye on serving sizes and get away from those high-calorie, low-nutrient foods.”
NPS, in conjunction with food services provider Sodexo, has tackled child health and nutrition from many angles, making breakfast as accessible as possible, restricting vending machines’ unhealthy options and requiring more fruits, vegetables and whole grains on daily lunch menus than ever before. Sodexo even introduces students to fruits and vegetables they haven’t tried before by featuring a fruit or vegetable each week
A new priority area for educators and researchers alike, Miller said, is classroom celebrations or Parent Teacher Association events in which students’ parents provide party foods.
“I think parents really want to provide good, healthy options but run out of ideas or get stuck in a rut with party snacks,” Miller said.
A 2012 study by Long Island University nutritionists Kathy Isoldi and Sharron Dalton focusing on what they called “celebration foods” found that healthy options like orange slices were vastly outnumbered by “low-nutrient, calorie-dense” foods like cupcakes, cheese puffs, donuts, Doritos and candy — coupled with high-sugar beverages like Hi-C and Capri Sun.
“Our finding suggests that classroom parties provide children an additional opportunity to consume excessive calories while at school,” Isoldi and Dalton reported.
Moreover, Isoldi and Dalton observed that guidelines for classroom party snacks distributed to parents asked for just one “treat food,” but class parties still saw a dominance of unhealthy sweets, a trend which they attributed to ineffective communication between school personnel and parents.
“Go online for ideas, or ask a school health coordinator — and get the kids outside or playing games, classroom celebrations don’t have to be food-centric,” Miller said.
In fact, Norman elementary students indicated they’d prefer celebratory social activities with their classmates to eating.
During the 2012/2013 school year, a group of seven students in the University of Oklahoma College of Nursing conducted a small survey of parents and students at Washington Elementary to determine ways to decrease food-related risks in elementary-aged children, discovering a major preference for playtime over snacking.
83.58 percent of Washington’s students indicated they would prefer games and activities over snacks, and 76.9 percent of parents agreed.
“You can’t take a snack home but you can take a craft home, crafts are really fun,” wrote one student.
“Snack time you’re just sitting there, we’re inside a lot already, if you can play with your friends you can climb stuff and get energy out,” another student wrote.
Additionally, surveyed teachers indicated that more than 40 percent of food for classroom parties gets thrown away.
“All you have to do is get those kids outside,” Miller said. “Let them play games, their brains and creativity get a jump-start and their heart rate is increased and they’re active — just get them outside.”
For more information or ideas on healthy lunch alternatives, contact Sunny Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org.