Even if you’re teaching children good food habits at home it may all be undermined by what’s lurking in school. Vending machines that offer sugary and fatty snacks, and cafeterias that sell fried goodies. Why are these soda and snack machines in our schools to begin with? Well, the manufacturers pay schools a percentage in exchange for long-term, exclusive contracts and cash-strapped districts need the money for student government, extra-curricular activities, clubs, and athletic programs.

The childhood obesity issue would have worsened were it not for several encouraging initiatives underway across America. These vary from encouraging more PE in schools to getting schools to say ‘No’ to high sugar, high fat snacks, and ‘Yes’ to healthy food vending machines, petitioning government and changing the menu at the cafeteria. Underlining all these initiatives, however, is one essential component: people’s willingness to get involved. In other words, your eagerness to create change and give a child, yours or others, a more nutritious lifestyle.

Here are some examples you can emulate to give your child a healthier lunch.


The Good News

May 3rd, 2006 marked a huge victory for advocates of healthier eating. Under pressure from parents and advocates on issues related to childhood obesity, Coca-cola, Pepsi Co., Inc and Cadbury Schweppes have agreed not to sell soft drinks to elementary schools and middle schools. The decision will be fully implemented by 2009-2010.

Also a new federal law, the Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization of 2004, requires school districts that have a federally funded school meals program to see how they can improve levels of physical activity and nutrition. According to this, school districts must establish wellness policies before the 2006-2007 school year.


What This Means for You

You have a voice and can decide what your child eats at school. It’s your chance to get involved.


Join the ‘Stir It Up’ Campaign

‘Stir It Up’ is a national movement of parents working to ensure that all children eat healthy and get sufficient physical activity. It involves e-mail or letters petitioning senators to get unhealthy food out of your schools. For details visit: http://www.stiritupamerica.com.


Follow Their Lead

Chappaqua, New York

Nancy Huehnergarth of Chappaqua, NY started small. She wrote to her PTA chair arguing that vending machines should have more nutritious snacks. Her feelings resonated with other parents and a PTA nutrition committee was formed.

They tackled one task at a time. They first worked with the food service contractor to stock vending machines from a list of acceptable drinks and snacks such as milk, seltzer, bottled water, and 100 percent juice; or whole-grain bars, yogurt, and baked chips.

Cafeteria improvements were slower since it involved the school board. Eventually the board approved guidelines for cafeterias at the district’s six schools. Soda and sports drinks were out and low-sugar, low-fat snacks were in. The committee also teamed up with county-wide school districts who were working on the issue in order to share best practices.

Next steps for them? Replacing food based fund-raisers with more healthy activities, healthier treats for class parties, and alternatives to food as classroom incentives.



At Whitefish Central Middle School in rural Montana, the initiative was led by Principal Kim Anderson. It involved the school, the PTA and the community. The PTA, with funds raised through the year, bought a refrigerated vending machine to hold healthy snacks and an organic salad bar for the cafeteria. It paid for pencils and small toys as incentives instead of candy. The school also switched recess to before lunch. Students came to the lunch tables hungrier and ate more of their lunch. The high school in that district added pretzels and fruit, besides hot dogs, to its concession stands during school games. The new juice and water machines continue to fund all the programs that the soda machines covered before.


Los Angeles

In 2002-2003 a diverse coalition of community groups, school board members, health advocates, students, teachers, and parents lobbied the Los Angeles Unified school board, the second largest school district in the nation. Using a very organized approach, advocates achieved policy change to eliminate the sale of soda and high fat, high sugar snack items in the district.


How Did They Accomplish Their Goal?

  1. Health advocates, including students and parents, outlined strong concerns about these practices and met both one-on-one with school board members and at school board meetings.
  2. The board was presented with information on the health implications of soda and unhealthy food consumption, youth dietary practices, and the link between nutrition and learning.
  3. Advocates offered school board members with data on the incidence of childhood obesity and childhood diabetes as well as the link between soda and unhealthy food and obesity.
  4. Students presented findings. For example, they collected data indicating the sale of water was increasing at Venice High School while soda sales were waning.
  5. At school board meetings, students testified that they wanted healthy food and drink options. They provided the school board with a list of healthier drinks and foods that could be sold at competitive prices.
  6. School board members authored two motions. The first, in 2002, banned sodas and other sugary drinks from all LAUSD campuses beginning in 2004. The second, in 2003, set nutrient standards for competitive foods starting in 2004.


What Were Their Results?

This decision made national and international news! LAUSD being the 2nd largest school district in the nation, these policies now serve as a model for other interested school districts across America.

All a la carte food sales meet the nutrient standards and portion sizes noted in the resolution. At least one vegetarian option is offered and salad bars have been added where possible.


Give Us Your Stories

Have you petitioned your schools or universities to serve Halal meals? If you have, tell us about it. Contact us via e-mail at halalconsumer@ifanca.org or write us at IFANCA, “Give us Your Stories”, 5901 N. Cicero Ave., Suite 309, Chicago, IL 60646. While submissions will not be returned, they may be used for future interviews for Halal Consumer magazine.

Sources/Resources: Parents’ Action for Children www.parentsaction.org; Campaign Stir It Up America www.stiritupamerica.com; California Project Lean www.californiaprojectlean.org


To-Do List

  1. Check with your school district or principal to see if there is an existing group working on a nutrition and wellness policy. If there is one, join it and speak up. Also make sure the school district is making efforts to involve other parents. It is required by law.
  2. No existing committee? Form one with other like-minded parents. Start with your Parent Teacher Association. Call a local reporter to do a story on your efforts.
  3. The more you know, the better equipped you’ll be while making your case. What’s in the vending machines? In the cafeteria? How much physical activity do kids get daily? What’s brought for room parties, birthdays, or given as incentives? Initiate alternatives to food based fund-raisers. Let the school board know of your findings
  4. Get others involved. Parents, teachers, the principal, students, administrators, food service personnel, a dietitian, and the school nurse all need to work together.