Take Action to Increase Healthy Food Options at Your School
Recently Medicine Hat & Brooks each completed their own Mini Nutrition Report Card. The report card evaluated food environments at the local level and developed recommendations to make the healthy choice the easy choice. The availability of healthy food is one important piece of a healthy food environment. The availability of healthy foods includes food sold at cafeteria or canteens, breakfast programs, fruit and vegetable programs, school wide special lunches, vending machines, school celebrations and any other time food is sold or provided to students. It does not include food that students bring from home or purchase off site. Here are some ideas for quick wins, and longer term goals.
The Mini Nutrition Report Cards recommends that 75% of foods available are healthy. Medicine Hat schools had 57% healthy foods and Brooks schools had 65% healthy foods. Both communities received a grade of C – the same as the provincial grade. (Read the Medicine Hat Mini Nutrition Report Card Blog Post for an overview of the school findings, or view the full report here: Medicine Hat Brooks)
What can we do to increase the amount of healthy food options in schools?
Ideas for quick wins:
- Re-organize your vending machine to increase the number of slots for healthy choices (water and unsweetened milk/plant based beverages). Create a block of healthy choices at eye level. Move the less healthy options to the top and bottom rows, and have fewer slots available for these options.
- Reduce the size of sugar sweetened beverages (many options are available in 222mL cans)
Work towards creating a healthy eating environment policy that includes vending machine guidelines. When vending machine contracts come up for renewal, include the healthy choices requirements in the contract. For more information check out the Healthy Vending Toolkit
Cafeterias & Canteens
Ideas for quick wins:
- Add a vegetable or fruit to an existing meal to make it a healthy combo
- Substitute grain products made with white flour/refined grains with whole grain buns, whole grain pasta, whole grain bread, brown rice and other whole grains
- Do not re-order candy and chips – when you run out, stop offering it
Work towards meeting your school food policy and follow the Alberta Nutrition Guidelines for Children and Youth for all foods served in your cafeteria/canteen. For more information see the School Menu Checklist and School Food Vendor Checklist.
Other resources you may find helpful when increasing the number of healthy options include:
School Breakfast Program Toolkit (includes cook and no cook sample menus)
Submitted by Ashley Bray, Registered Dietitian with Alberta Health Services