Create Change in My School
It takes time and commitment if you want to change the food in your school/school district. There are many considerations. We will be adding more to this section soon, so check back.
Understanding How School Food Works
Before you can create change in your school, it’s important to know How School Food Works. After reading the information at the How School Food works link, if you have questions or need more support, we are here for you. Contact us! Please continue reading below to know HOW we can help you.
What You Need To Know Before Starting
- Is your school foodservice “Self-Op” or “Contract Management”? In other words, are the employees of the foodservice department employees of the school district, or are they employees of an outside company that has a contract with the school? This is important to know before approaching anyone.
- Do your homework and find out who is really interested in making a commitment to healthier school food. Hopefully, it’s the Food Service Director, but if there is any indication that they are resistant, then you might want to reach out to the school superintendent, a board member, the school nurse, or a principal. Strategically, it’s better not to have to go over someone’s head after speaking with them, so if in doubt, start out with the school superintendent.
- Look at the school menu online. Are you aware of what they are already doing to improve school food? Many schools are doing wonderful things and you might not know it yet. Some aren’t the best at promoting the good things they are doing, so see what you can find out about what’s already happening.
- Read our strategies for talking to school decision makers, below, before reaching out to them.
- Does your school district have an active and functioning Wellness Committee? All schools participating in the USDA School Meal Program are required by federal law to have a Wellness Policy. The Wellness Policy can be unique to the school district but must address a number of items including nutrition guidelines, nutrition education, and more. If there is a Wellness Committee, this may be a good place to start. But not always. We have heard from many parents who wanted to participate in the Wellness Committee and were not allowed to, being told that they had all the members they needed. Sometimes, but not always, this is a sign that the Wellness Committee is not active.
How the Coalition for Healthy School Food Can Help
We can support you in a variety of ways, whether you are a student, parent, Food Service Director, Principal, Superintendent, School Board Member, or community member. Much support can be provided by phone and through email. We can provide most information and some resources for free. We do not need to come to you in order for you to create change.
- Conduct a school food assessment to identify areas of improvement.
- Provide strategies for how to introduce healthy plant-based food.
- Provide healthy recipes for your chefs/cooks to use.
- Chef/cooks training to learn our healthy recipes. Trainings include knife skills and working with new ingredients.
- Educational presentations for school cooks/chefs/food service staff.
- Educational presentations for school boards, administrators, wellness committees, PTA/PTO’s, or any other group.
- Teacher professional development.
- Presentations for students (we can give them or we can show you how to), such as our Cool School Food in the Classroom program.
- Educational resources: Wellness Wakeup Call and Feel Good Food Cards.
- Family & Consumer Sciences Curriculum for your FACS teachers to present to students.
- After School Cooking Class Curriculum for use in your school.
- We can also do customized trainings, please inquire.
Some districts will need more support than we can provide via phone and email, and we can come to you. If you do have us come to you, there is normally, but not always, a cost associated with that as we have to cover the cost of transportation, lodging (depending on how far you are from us or our associates), meals, and paying our staff or associates. We do not want cost to be a barrier to us helping you. If you would like to bring us to your school district, there are ways that you can apply for funding through outside organizations and we can suggest ideas for that. Please don’t hesitate to reach out and ask!
Strategies for Communicating with School Decision Makers
As noted above, do your homework and decide who to reach out to first. Please note that we can’t guarantee our strategies will work – we only know that they have worked for us. And sometimes they don’t. Each situation is unique. Don’t do or say anything you aren’t personally comfortable with. In other words, don’t take our advice over your own thoughts about the best ways to approach various parties. Use our experience to help guide your decisions, but use your own judgment.
- Food Service Directors work very hard. Ask what they are doing to improve meals and listen. Really listen.
- Note that Food Service Directors have many responsibilities: following regulations, producing food within a very tight budget, figuring out how to produce meals with a number of absent employees on any given day due to illness or injury, dealing with food deliveries that didn’t show up or equipment breakdowns, making students happy, making parents happy, and making the partners they work with happy.
- In most cases, you should speak to the Food Service Director for the school district, and not the food service employee who works in your child’s school. We have found that it is easier, and you will encounter fewer roadblocks if you go to the top decision-maker. They know what is and is not possible. They decide if change happens. For example, a food service worker in a school may tell you that something can’t be done because they don’t think it’s possible. On the other hand, though, the food service worker in your child’s school could be your biggest ally. So it’s a case by case basis, but since the Food Service Director is the decision-maker and knows all of the regulations and budget intricacies, they are in the best position to tell you what is possible, and what changes they are willing to oversee.
- If you talk to the Food Service Director about wanting to make change, “Get Curious, Not Furious“. Start out by acknowledging how hard you know they work and that you are interested in some possible changes, but that you don’t want to make more work for them. Commit do doing certain things to make changing things easy for them. For example:
- Ask if you can make a “family size version” of a recipe and bring it in for them to try. They might really appreciate having a free lunch! And bring the whole recipe so others in the office can also try it. Clarify if you should bring plates or utensils (they will probably say that they can provide them, but ask).
- Offer to get a company (falafels or veggie burgers, for example) to send them some free product to try. Then ask if you can come in and prepare this item for them to try.
- Offer to do a food tasting with students of a scratch-made or manufactured product. This could be done in the cafeteria during mealtime or after school. If you are doing taste testings, coordinate with the school nurse to ensure safety protocols in relation to food allergies. (For example, during lunch, perhaps the nurse can be there with you – she knows who the kids with allergies are, or if after school, during parent pick up time, only serve to students accompanied by parents or with permission of the after school program director).
- Offer to help provide education to parents and students about the benefits of healthy plant-based foods.
- Market and promote the new recipes once on the menu. This can be done in many ways and we will be adding a section below in the near future.
- If you are specifically wanting plant-based entrees, know that not everyone knows how extensive the literature is about the benefits of a plant-based diet, and how much that can make a difference in the health challenges that so many face. Keep that in mind and be gentle. We have had interested parents call us after they had already “burned bridges” and it is unlikely that the school district will now be willing to work with those people. Understanding how school food works, understanding how to work with, and not against someone, being a good listener, and being compassionate are all important in your communications if you want to achieve change.