Untitled 1 Real Food for Kids - Montgomery, LLC
Real Food for Kids - Montgomery  
 

Starting a Wellness Committee
Getting a Salad Bar for Your School
Changing Breakfast Options
Changing A La Carte Options

Starting a Wellness Committee

The latest update (June 29, 2017) of the MCPS Wellness Regulation (JPG-RA) requires every school in MCPS to have a Wellness Team led by the principal or his/her designee. As this is a new regulation, few schools have created such a team yet, or their wellness team has focused exclusively on staff wellness and does not involve parents. Other schools may have a Wellness Committee under the PTA. According to the Regulation, "Representatives of students, staff, parents/guardians, and other stakeholders participate in the development, implementation and periodic review of MCPS wellness activities through school-level wellness councils/teams, the MCPS districtwide wellness committee, and other community partnerships." Therefore, if you are interested in starting or participating in a school Wellness Team, you should approach your school's principal to express your interest and find out about existing structures. Existing PTA-based committees should also approach their principal about having staff members join their committee and making it the official school Wellness Team.

To recruit additional parents for your committee or team, RFKM can send you a list of parents from your school. You can also announce the existence of a team at a PTA meeting or via your PTA listserv or newsletter, or the principal can send out school-wide announcements on ConnectEd. If your school does not have a parent listserv run by the PTA, we strongly suggest you ask the PTA to start one by using Google or Yahoo Groups. If your principal isn't ready to start a school-based team, you can also bring a small group of interested people to your PTA leadership to ask to start a wellness committee. The PTA will typically vote on starting the committee at a general or executive board meeting and may have forms for you to complete. If you would like RFKM to present at a PTA meeting prior or subsequent to making this request, you can request that by emailing us at realfoodmcps@gmail.com.

Once the committee is formed, an initial meeting should be held to determine the interests of the various members. Possibilities include food in and out of the cafeteria, outdoor and active recess, physical activity in the classroom/brain breaks, installing a school garden, increasing PE or recess, yoga/mindfulness, mental health, drugs and alcohol, wifi and technology, or body safety issues. RFKM can provide support for school food and some physical activity related activities, while the MCCPTA Health and Safety Committee may have resources on some of these other areas. You can join the Yahoo group for that committee by contacting the 17-18 Chair, Sunil Dasgupta at sunildasgupta@hotmail.com.

Alliance for a Healthier Generation has a School Health Index assessment tool that can also be used to assess the entire school environment around wellness issues and point to areas that need strengthening. You will likely need the help of a school staff member to complete all the questions on the assessment. Some of the most successful wellness committees have broken their members into smaller subcommittees to work on specific issues, or to plan for a wellness night or week. For topics that will require advocacy (e.g., issues that involve a change in school policy or practices as opposed to programming), you may wish to start by conducting a survey of parents to determine support for any proposed changes. RFKM has sample surveys covering school food issues and can customize a survey for you in our SurveyMonkey Pro account.

Here are some examples of activities performed by wellness committees started by RFKM members:

- At Bradley Hills ES, Takoma Park ES, Sligo Creek ES and Silver Spring International MS, the wellness committees created a school food survey, reviewed it with the principal, then surveyed parents via the school listserv.

- At Bradley Hills ES, after getting the results of the survey, wellness committee leaders arranged a meeting with the Division of Food and Nutrition Services (DFNS) and the principal to go over the results and asked for removal of a la carte items that 50% or more of parents did not want served and also asked for a salad bar. As a result of this meeting, DFNS installed a salad bar and limited a la carte choices to the items selected identified as acceptable to the majority of parents. Their team has had to continually monitor a la carte choices to make sure that the ones selected continue to be the only ones offered.

- Rock Creek Forest ES's Wellness Committee advocated for a water bottle filling station in their new school (which was being rebuilt) and got MCPS to agree to install one in the cafeteria.

- Sligo Creek ES's Wellness Committee conducted the 5 for 5 Challenge, preceded it with a fruit and vegetable tasting for all kids to publicize the challenge, and raised money to install a water bottle filling station in the cafeteria.

- Takoma Park ES's Wellness Committee started an after school farm stand once a week with a local farmer and advocated and got funds through the PTA for equipment to promote more active classrooms (e.g., bouncy balls to replace chairs).

Getting a Salad Bar for Your School

MCPS does not currently have salad bar equipment available for schools. Grants for salad bar equipment are available through the Whole Kids Foundation, and there is a toolkit for parents, but schools must make the application, so most of the toolkit is designed to convince administrators of its importance.

RFKM is currently advocating at the district level for salad bar equipment to be requested for all schools. The full cost listed for a salad bar and all the containers, etc. to use with it is $2,625, although the bar itself costs around $1,500. Requests for salad bars need to be made by the principal, so this is your first stop if you're interested in having one. Many principals are hesitant to make this request due to concerns that it will create chaos and longer lines in the cafeteria or will require additional staff. MCPS' Director of Food and Nutrition Services, Susan McCarron, has indicted that there will be a small rollout of salad bars under a new model at both elementary and secondary levels as well as big, self-serve salads with protein options in fall 2018, with plans for expansion.

One of the best ways to advocate for a salad bar is to first educate parents on salad bars. You are free to personalize and use this article on salad bars as a submission to your PTA newsletter. Subsequently, you can run a school food survey to determine parent support for the salad bar. RFKM has sample surveys and a subscription to SurveyMonkey that you can access for this purpose. We also have a version in Spanish if you can arrange for in-person administration at an event. Once majority support for a salad bar is established through the survey, you can request a meeting with your principal to ask for approval for a salad bar or to start fundraising for one.

We encourage you to look at the materials below and work closely with the Division of Food and Nutrition Services to make sure that the salad bar is properly implemented and marketed. A poorly stocked, publicized and marketed salad bar will likely be used by few children and may be removed or only stocked very few days of the week.

Also, you should know that if a salad from a bar is purchased by itself (and not as a side dish for an entire meal) children will be charged by the ounce and the salad could become quite expensive. Some schools may allow a salad (if it includes grains and proteins) + milk to be sold as a regular meal at the set meal price or as a complete Free and Reduced Price Meal.

Farmer's Market Salad Bar Program Guide - created by the Riverside United School District Nutrition Services Department and the Center for Food and Justice at Occidental College

Salad Bars - Implementation guide from The Lunch Box

Whole Kids Foundation - Equipment Grants

Changing Breakfast Options

At 80 of the schools in MCPS, breakfast is served not only in the cafeteria but also in the classroom. This has created concern among parents whose children are not only eating two breakfasts, but a second breakfast of foods they would not serve regularly at home, like cinnamon rolls, pancakes or cinnamon cream cheese "minibagels" with chocolate milk and a side of juice and Craisins that they cannot opt their child out of.

Parents at various schools have organized themselves to request whole fruit for breakfast, or the removal of undesirable breakfast items, like cinnamon rolls (so far, requests for removal of chocolate milk have not been granted). Again, the best way to initiate this process is through the formation of a wellness committee and school food surveys. However, if you would like to shortcut the process, if you have a group of parents who are concerned, they can contact the principal who can arrange a meeting between parents and the Division of Food and Nutrition Services. However, when you go this route, you will likely only get the changes that the majority of the parents who show up for the meeting want. If you want a more democratic evaluation of what the majority of parents agree on, conducting a school food survey will lead to more accurate and representative results. RFKM has templates and a SurveyMonkey Pro account that you can access to conduct a survey.

Here are some examples of what our members at two schools have done to improve breakfast in the classroom options:

- After discovering that whole fruit was listed on the menu, but juice was always served instead, parents at Rolling Terrace ES advocated for fresh fruit to be served at breakfast. After meetings with the Division of Food and Nutrition Services, they got their request. While it is too costly for MCPS to serve 2 servings of fruit at breakfast, they are now serving one plus juice.

- After advocacy by a group of parents at Forest Knolls ES, which led to a meeting between parents and the Division of Food and Nutrition Services, MCPS removed Craisins and cinnamon rolls from breakfast in the classroom there.

Changing A La Carte Options

One of the most common complaints of parents in MCPS is the sale of a la carte items such as chips, cookies, ice cream and "fruit" snacks, even at the elementary school level, that are not listed on the menus. These items can be purchased by students using their pin numbers without parent knowledge or permission. While parents do have the right to restrict their child's account to meals only, few know about the sale of a la carte foods or take advantage of their ability to limit their children's access to them. Parents at various schools have surveyed the cafeteria using RFKM's summary chart of a la carte items then sent a list of items available at their school to the parent listserv, informing parents of their option to block their child's account for a la carte purchases.

However, the best way to improve the situation for an entire school is to work to limit a la carte options to healthier items, or to restrict certain items to one day a week (in many elementary schools ice cream, for example, is only offered once a week). Again, the best way to initiate this process is through the formation of a wellness committee and the conducting of a school food survey. In our experience, school food surveys typically show that the majority of parents agree on the removal of the worst of the a la carte options.

Subsequently, a meeting between the wellness committee leadership, the Division of Food and Nutrition Services and the school principal usually results in an improved a la carte menu, as principals have the right to remove or change a la carte options. However, if you would like to shortcut the process, if you have a group of parents who are concerned, they can contact the principal who can arrange a meeting between parents and the Division of Food and Nutrition Services to request changes. However, when you go this route, you will likely only get the changes that the majority of the parents who show up for the meeting want. If you want a more democratic evaluation of what the majority of parents agree on, conducting a school food survey will lead to more accurate and representative results. RFKM has templates and a SurveyMonkey Pro account that you can access to conduct one.

   

"I teach high school and the students are begging for healthier choices--especially the kids who receive free and reduced meals. Their options are limited." 
- An MCPS teacher

"Please no more chicken nuggets, pizza, fries, and other junk foods. Positive peer pressure can help some kids open up to new, healthier foods. School is a good opportunity for that." 
- An RFKM supporter

"We would love our daughter to be able to eat the food in the cafeteria, but it just isn't healthy. We limit her to once a week. We should also do away with veding machines in the schools. Or have vending machines that sell things like fruit." 
- an MCPS parent

"As a teacher in MoCo public schools I see the negative effect this so called food has on students daily. many of these students count on these meals as their only food for the day, and sugar and chemicals aren't fitting for creating a positive learning environment."
- an MCPS teacher


 
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