If you work in school nutrition, you know all about the USDA requirement for local wellness policies. If you have school-aged children or grandchildren, you may have reviewed your district’s wellness policy or served on a wellness committee or council. Even if you have never thought about your community’s school wellness policies, it’s time to take a closer look. Here is why I believe that every Academy member — from student to retired — should be involved in school wellness.
Jeanne Reilly, DTR, SNS, has been the director of school nutrition at Windham-Raymond RSU 14, in Maine, for nine years. The RSU 14 District Wellness Policy has had a positive effect on her work every school day during that time. “We were fortunate to have an RD, Stephanie Joyce, who is now a national nutrition advisor for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation, as our school health coordinator,” Jeanne says. “She brought real expertise to the table, which helped us develop and implement a strong, positive local wellness policy. It promotes the five aspects of wellness — mental, physical, social, emotional and spiritual — to our students, staff and communities.” The district wellness committee is such an integral part of school life that it has its own Facebook page: RSU 14 Wellness for All.
Since RSU 14 is a small district with only six schools, there is one wellness team with members from each school and every department in the district, as well as students and community members. Active participation by the team has helped Jeanne make Windham-Raymond a national leader in school nutrition and wellness. RSU 14 is known for its creative nutrition education, farm-to-school meals, school gardens and culinary clubs for kids, all supported by an on-staff district chef. Since their wellness policy says that no outside food is allowed in school, everyone is more creative with non-food celebrations like a fun run with the principal, and special events such as pizza parties are often catered by foodservices as a reimbursable lunch. “There is almost no drama or pushback on our wellness policy,” Jeanne notes. “The wellness team advocates for the policy in the community and provides regular updates and education for staff and students. Our school administration is completely supportive of the policy and provides ongoing support for developing a culture of wellness.”
RSU 14 meets all the requirements for Local School Wellness Policies updated in the 2010 Healthy Hungry-Free Kids Act. Not every district is fortunate to have an award-winning wellness champion like Jeanne Reilly, and few districts have paid school health staff positions. This is where the RDN and NDTR members of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics can get involved and help school districts update and strengthen their local wellness policies.
#WellnessWins, which launched April 17 with the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics as a partner, is a “digital marketing campaign that celebrates district wellness success and inspires everyone to create healthier school environments for students through strong wellness policies.” #WellnessWins offers several ways that parents can engage with school districts to support wellness policies, including:
- Joining a wellness council or committee
- Being part of parent organizations like PTAs and PTOs that can take an active role in supporting wellness programs
- Sending healthy snacks to school with their children that are consistent with school policies
- Sharing positive feedback with cafeteria staff, principals or teachers that are prioritizing student health
- Using traditional or social media to urge support for healthy policies in all schools
As you get involved in school wellness you may also find these resources useful:
School Nutrition Services Dietetic Practice Group has more than 1,200 members working in school districts, federal and state agencies, business and industry, and colleges and universities.
Healthy Schools. It’s A Team Effort. This toolkit was developed with content experts from the School Nutrition Services DPG and is designed to educate school and community stakeholders about the importance of healthy eating and physical activity for academic success.
USDA Team Nutrition, Local School Wellness Policies are an important tool for parents, local educational agencies and school districts in promoting student wellness, preventing and reducing childhood obesity, and providing assurance that school meal nutrition guidelines meet the minimum federal standards.