Food Education: Q&A with Stacy Whitman of School Bites

Posted on August 20, 2014 at 6:00 am

By Kim HarshbergerFood Education (a Q&A with Stacy Whitman of School Bites) | Spokane County Library District

I confess. I do not have the healthiest relationship with food. My family tends to classify people into two categories; those who eat to live, and those who live to eat. I fall into the latter category, which I don’t think, in itself, is necessarily a bad thing. However, I do have problems in that I eat when I am not hungry, I overeat, and I eat for comfort.

But I am making attempts at changing these behaviors by at least eating better food. My family is eating more vegetables, less wheat and other carbs, and fewer processed foods. I am doing this partly for myself, but mostly I am doing it for my kids. So, as adults, their relationship with food is respectful and full of enjoyment, but not abusive.

Each day I feed them a hearty breakfast before they go to school, send them on their way with a delicious packed lunch (no school lunches for us), welcome them home to a nutritious snack, and cook them an amazing dinner. Bing, bang, boom. I control all the food. They will eat healthy, nutritious food at all their meals. Life will be good.

Wrong. What I didn’t factor in was the food they would encounter in their classrooms. It honestly didn’t even cross my mind. I quickly realized that my battle wasn’t over when they came home with candy for turning in homework; having eaten cupcakes for a yet another birthday; with stories of food-based learning activities; and with goodie bags to celebrate a holiday. Other people were educating my kids about food, and I hadn’t planned on having to handle that situation.

So as I approach this coming school year, I have decided to prepare myself and be proactive. First, I turned to some fellow mothers to find out what they would do. Below is what I learned from advocate, Stacy Whitman, who chronicles her efforts in her blog called School Bites. Stacy is a fellow mother who also wants her kids to eat well at home and at school. She has taken an active role working with her school system to break the cycle of rewarding with food, and eating junk food during classroom celebrations.

I know my reasons for not wanting my kids to eat in the classroom; but what makes you passionate about the subject?

When my oldest child (now age 8) started Kindergarten, I was shocked and frustrated by all the cupcakes, candy, ice cream, and other unhealthy foods being served up at classroom parties and school events. All my efforts to educate my son about healthy eating at home were being undermined. With one in three American kids now overweight or obese and type 2 diabetes skyrocketing among children, our schools should be teaching students how to be healthy—not contributing to the problems by loading them up with junk.

What have you done and what are you doing to help your school make changes? What are your goals for your school district? Are there any milestones you have reached so far?

From helping start a school wellness committee, to creating a Pinterest page featuring healthy snacks for class parties, I have tried many different tactics to improve the food environment at my kids’ elementary school. On a broader level, I served on a committee that involved helping our district write and adopt a stronger wellness policy. Most recently, I have been involved with creating a Healthy Classrooms Initiative aimed at educating teachers on healthy celebrations, non-food rewards, the importance of recess and physical activity, and more.

What should be my first steps this coming school year to broach the subject of my concerns about food in the classroom?

Get a copy of your school district wellness policy and find out the rules (if any) when it comes to classroom food. Talk to your child’s teacher and your school principal about your concerns and offer to be part of the solution. Emphasize the potential benefit of good nutrition on student learning, behavior and health. Volunteer to be “Room Mom” and help plan healthy class parties. Get proactive—and don’t feel bad about it! I’ve found most school administrators, teachers and parents very receptive to healthier ideas.

I work during the school days, so I don’t have a lot of time that I can spend in the classroom; what could I do to help support a willing teacher from afar?

There’s a lot that you can do to encourage and support your child’s teacher in her effort to create a healthy classroom. Start by asking her about her wants and needs. Offer to help plan a healthy class party or provide a list of healthy classroom snack ideas to distribute to parents. Provide a list of healthy, non-food rewards to help her find alternatives to candy and ice cream parties.

Since our family doesn’t eat wheat, my kids are often left out of eating the treats brought for birthday celebrations. Last year we provided our own stash of treats for those occasions, but my kids still felt left out. How can I help my kids not feel alienated when treats are offered that I don’t want them to eat?

You’ve offered a perfect example of why every school should have a firm policy on food served in the classroom. A growing number of kids (approximately one out of every 13) now suffer from food allergies and sensitivities, some of them life threatening. We have children who are overweight and obese. We have an estimated 23 percent of adolescents with diabetes or pre-diabetes. We have kids who REALLY don’t need another cup­cake, sug­ary drink, or bag of candy. At school, we need to con­sider the health and wel­fare of ALL stu­dents. So to answer your question: I believe that the best thing that you can do to help your kids feel less alienated is advocating for stronger guidelines on classroom food at your school.

To learn more about Stacy and her school food advocacy, please visit School Bites

Kim Harshberger

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