Nutrition Coordinator Herman McKie knows how to talk to kids about food. With a sure sense of what students will and won't eat, he promotes nutrition with a number of cool activities, hands-on projects and yummy taste tests that even the high schoolers enjoy.
A connoisseur of kid-speak, McKie says the trick is to avoid the idea that kids should eat certain foods solely because they are "healthful." Instead," students should eat these foods because they look appealing and they taste good."The challenge—as in many of SchoolFood's programs—is to apply the "make it cool" model to nutrition education.
Because nutritious foods are SchoolFood's specialty, "our menus help us to teach students how to take the nutrition principles we apply in our program with them when they aren't eating with us," McKie says.
He also is committed to keeping kids engaged at every level. "If we're educating in a high school, we aren't going to use the same activities we would use in an elementary school. We cater our programs—nutrition education included—to our audience."
And lastly, McKie emphasizes branching out while staying focused on the mission. From the School Food Partnership and nutrition standards to student taste testing and nutrition research, McKie keeps his feet rooted in the philosophy that SchoolFood is in the business of helping students practice healthy eating by reducing or eliminating, the total fat, saturated fat, trans fat, cholesterol and sodium content of the foods it serves.
School Food Partnership
Through the School Food Partnership initiative, McKie has engaged the school community— administration, students, parents, and custodians—in the discussion of menus, nutrition and marketing, and as a way to listen to local concerns and suggestions.
"The partnership opens the door for the principals and the foodservice managers to deal with issues face to face concerning the breakfast and lunch programs in each particular school," he says "It gives SchoolFood the opportunity to discuss the promotions we've got in the works as well as plan the monthly nutrition education segments."
Every month SchoolFood puts together a partnership agenda to be used in each meeting, complete with posters, games, recipes, tips, and tons of information on a variety of subjects ranging from MyPyramid and essential vitamins and minerals to sugars and fad diets.
"When our managers meet with the partnership committees, they'll spend 20 to 40 minutes with the students exploring the subject of the month along with school-specific issues. The goal is to make nutrition fun for students."
In the high schools, the task is a bit more daunting. The same puzzle that got the 3rd grader pumped about pineapples, doesn't usually have the same effect on on a teenager.
"With teenagers it's all about appearance. They find it interesting that what they eat directly affects how they look," says McKie. "We talk with them about the benefits healthful foods and proper exercise have on their bodies and their interest level rises."
According to McKie, students in general are more apt to participate when "we talk about how nutrition applies to them on a personal level."
Standards and Goals
Next up for SchoolFood's nutrition warriors?
"While we meet our nutrition goals weekly," he says, "we want to meet them daily."
SchoolFood is constantly looking to improve itself especially from a nutritive standpoint and the more buy-in the better. On the horizon is an "Ask The Dietitian" component to SchoolFood's web page, more community involvement through health fairs and marketing, as well as more communication within the health community.
"I think we're doing a great job," says McKie. "The community sees that we're doing a great job. They appreciate that we care about their kids and that we have the students' best interest at heart."