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Step 3: Take Action

Parent Toolkit

At the Chef Ann Foundation, we want to inspire, educate, and activate parents to advocate for better school food in their communities. The Parent Advocacy Toolkit is designed to guide you through school food advocacy in three clear steps: Get Educated, Get Organized, and Take Action.

Step 3: Take Action

Parent Toolkit

At the Chef Ann Foundation, we want to inspire, educate, and activate parents to advocate for better school food in their communities. The Parent Advocacy Toolkit is designed to guide you through school food advocacy in three clear steps: Get Educated, Get Organized, and Take Action.

Explore Programming Possibilities

Now it’s time to take action! Your “next steps” are the actions that you’ve determined are necessary based on your goals, and that’s where you’ll want to focus your energy.

While it’s helpful to identify the challenges, problems, and obstacles that your district’s school food program faces, it’s even more helpful to offer possible solutions and opportunities. Looking at success stories and models of school food change is a great way to begin exploring programming options. Every school district is different, though, and it’s a good idea to get a sense of how programming can work within your district’s specific operational models.

As you explore your options, remember that not all programming options are based in the food service program. Incorporating nutrition education, school gardens, and farm-to-school initiatives into the classroom curriculum and school culture can go a long way in creating demand for healthier food choices among the students.

The following list will give you an idea of the programming options to consider.

Salad Bars to Schools (SB2S)*

This program that grants salad bars to schools. Salad bars can be utilized as a reimbursable meal or as part of a reimbursable meal. The salad bar toolkit is specifically designed for parents who want to support the program, complete with a sample letter to the school district. Once your school receives a salad bar, there is a wealth of information to support its implementation in the cafeteria on The Lunch Box.

Get Schools Cooking*

Provides a deep dive into school food reform that helps motivated school districts transition to scratch cook operations. This three-year technical assistance program includes a workshop, on-site assessment and strategic planning, peer-to-peer collaboration, technical assistance and potential equipment grants.

NOTE: Only school district administration can apply for these grants; parents are key to building awareness of them.

Garden and Kitchen Lessons

The Edible School Yard has put together a collection of lesson plans focused on a variety of subjects for all grade levels.

Cafeteria Activities

The Lunch Box provides activities and materials to encourage students to try new fruits and vegetables and to help them understand the role fresh produce plays in a healthy diet.

Nourishing Students: Enrichment Activities for Grades K-5

This toolkit from The Center for Ecoliteracy offers cross-curricular enrichment activities help children learn how fruits and vegetables grow, how they get from the field to the plate, and what makes each unique.

Media Smart Youth

Free program materials devoted to educating kids age 11 through 13 about how their attitudes toward food and nutrition may be influenced by the media. Teaching kids early about how they’re being targeted by food advertisements is extremely important.

Teaching Gardens Curriculum

The American Heart Association presents eleven lesson plans aimed at pre-K to fifth-grade students. These fun, educational, hands-on investigations explore nutritious fruits and vegetables in and out of the garden.

USDA MyPlate

Grade levels K through 8 can utilize this educational resource, which is meant to be integrated into math, science, social studies, and English classes. Posters, handouts, and workbooks galore are available to you free on the site.

Voices for Healthy Kids

This collection of toolkits for parents, advocates, and community members describes how to best support healthy food and activity for kids in and outside of school.

National Farm to School Network

A great searchable database on farm to school resources based on topic and age group. Remember, October is National Farm to School month! Their fact sheet is a great way to start brainstorming.

USDA Farm to School

The USDA Farm to School program provides granting opportunities as well as helpful resources to work with local farms at your school.

The Edible Schoolyard (ESY)

Provides a network of edible education resources, programming, and lesson plans. Founded by school food innovator Alice Waters, ESY resources are grounded in school gardens, but extend to other avenues of nutrition education and programming in schools.

The Whole Kids Foundation, in partnership with FoodCorps

Runs a granting program for school gardens. They also have a School Garden Resource Center with resources for planning and implementing your school garden..

USDA Grants

Help your school district understand the financial support that is available to them as they work to improve their school food program. Important to know: Only school district administration can apply for these grants.

  • Farm to School Grants: The USDA subsidizes programs that promote district partnerships with local and regional farmers, ranchers, and other food producers.
  • Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program: This program helps subsidize schools’ efforts to add more fresh produce to their lunch menus.
  • Team Nutrition Training Grants: This is a great resource for staff training as well as nutrition education.

School Food USA Garden Guide

From design, implementation and curriculum to fundraising, volunteers and school policy, this comprehensive “how-to” guide offers a clear roadmap for developing a successful school garden program in any community.

Here is a list of resources for posters, flyers, letter templates, infographics, and more:

Connecting with District Decision-Makers & Key Influencers

Once you have goals, action steps, and programming suggestions, it’s time to present your ideas to the decision-makers. It could be that representatives of the decision-making bodies are already a part of your group (e.g. representatives from the school administration or board) and can act as ambassadors.

Even if this is the case, don’t count on your “in” to guarantee a receptive audience or approval. Be ready to respond to many different arguments as to why your ideas won’t work, and prepare answers to address them.

Ideally, key decision-makers (learn who these people are in the section below) have already been made aware of your group and the work you’ve been doing through your ongoing communication and data-gathering activities. They should be anticipating a request for a meeting or presentation.

Create a presentation that you can use and/or modify for different decision-making groups. A PowerPoint presentation can be ideal for communicating your group’s findings, goals, and recommendations clearly and concisely. The Center for Ecoliteracy’s guide for “Making the Case to School Leaders” may be helpful when putting together your presentation.

Make sure you understand the authority each decision-maker has and be clear about what you would like them to do. Let them know that you understand the policies and procedures surrounding the decision-making process at all levels.

Connecting with District Decision-Makers & Key Influencers

Once you have goals, action steps, and programming suggestions, it’s time to present your ideas to the decision-makers. It could be that representatives of the decision-making bodies are already a part of your group (e.g. representatives from the school administration or board) and can act as ambassadors.

Even if this is the case, don’t count on your “in” to guarantee a receptive audience or approval. Be ready to respond to many different arguments as to why your ideas won’t work, and prepare answers to address them.

Ideally, key decision-makers (learn who these people are in the section below) have already been made aware of your group and the work you’ve been doing through your ongoing communication and data-gathering activities. They should be anticipating a request for a meeting or presentation.

Create a presentation that you can use and/or modify for different decision-making groups. A PowerPoint presentation can be ideal for communicating your group’s findings, goals, and recommendations clearly and concisely. The Center for Ecoliteracy’s guide for “Making the Case to School Leaders” may be helpful when putting together your presentation.

Make sure you understand the authority each decision-maker has and be clear about what you would like them to do. Let them know that you understand the policies and procedures surrounding the decision-making process at all levels.

Food Service Director (FSD)

If the FSD has not been involved with your advocacy group, set up a meeting with them and present your findings, goals, and programming ideas. Invite their input and guidance before you ask for a meeting with school administration. Keep in mind that this can be a sensitive topic for the FSD. Take the time to find points of agreement on priorities and ways to move forward. This will both avoid later conflicts and ensure that your group and the FSD are on the same page when you go to the administration. It’s a good idea to invite the FSD to your meeting with the administration.

Existing Committees for Student Health & Wellness

(e.g., the Student Health Advisory Council or SHAC)

An existing committee may already have school food in their purview and a set role in the administration. They may also have a relationship with the school board and may be able to help you develop a strategy for working with the school board. Set up a meeting with them and make your presentation. Ask for guidance regarding moving change forward.

School District Administrators

(especially the school superintendent and the assistant superintendent of finance)

Set up a meeting with the administration and present your findings and recommendations. Let them know that you’ve met with the FSD. If there are areas where your team and the FSD disagree, be sure to let the administration know and look to them for support and guidance in resolving disagreements.

School Board

Get to know your school board and their priorities. Find places where your goals intersect with theirs. Try to find a champion who can help arrange a presentation to the board. During your presentation, be clear about what you would like the board to do, and be sure to involve a member of the administration when you present your case to the board.

PTO/PTA

While the PTO/PTA (Parent Teacher Organization/Parent Teacher Association) does not have the authority to make school policy changes, they are instrumental in gathering the community support needed to make such changes successful. You may want to modify your presentation to the PTO/PTA to address parents’ concerns, as these will not be the same as those of the administration and board. Again, be clear regarding what you are asking of the PTO/PTA. Do you want to use their communication channels to educate parents about the school food changes you are requesting? Let them know.

Be ready for arguments against your ideas. You should be prepared to offer responses that address issues which are important to the decision-makers—and remember that this may not be what you find important.

For example, if the assistant superintendent for finance says that the school depends on the money generated from junk food sales, an argument about children’s health may not be persuasive. Instead, discuss the fiscal benefits of healthier school food. For examples of common arguments and responses, see below.

Argument #1

The school food program lacks the money and/or resources to make any changes, to get rid of junk food sales, to incorporate fresh fruit, to buy more equipment, etc.

  • Response A: There are grants available from CAF, the USDA, and other non-governmental organizations that can help fund healthier school food, like the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program and salad bar equipment grants.
  • Response B: While participation in a healthier school food program may go down initially, studies show that, given time, participation in school food programs goes up when the quality of food improves, which will increase revenue from the school food program.
  • Response C: Funding school programs through junk food sales is counterproductive. Encouraging kids to develop poor eating habits adversely affects their academic performance, physical health, and development. School stores, vending machines, and group/athletic fundraisers can switch to healthy snacks, or they can sell fun items that promote school spirit, like t-shirts, pom-poms, and wristbands.

Argument #2

Kids don’t want to eat healthier food, so participation will go down and food waste will go up if we incorporate healthy food into the menus.

  • Response A: This peer-reviewed study by researchers at the University of Illinois at Chicago shows that elementary-school students respond positively to healthier lunches.
  • Response B: Studies show that while there is usually an initial drop in participation following a change in menus, it goes up again over time when the quality of food improves.

Argument #3

Schools can’t affect a child’s eating habits if they’re eating junk outside of school.

  • Response: School is the place where children learn not just math, science, reading and writing, but also social norms, relationship building, health and hygiene–and, yes, eating habits, whether they are good or bad. The cafeteria is a classroom; if they are served pizza every day, they’ll learn that it’s okay to eat pizza every day. When children eat healthy food at school, they bring their knowledge home; it will also influence their choices when they buy food on their own.

Argument #4

The school food facilities aren’t equipped to handle changes.

  • Response A: Some school food changes don’t require renovation. Things like placing healthier options in front of less-healthy options on the lunch line, or purchasing healthier options of the same food items, are easy to implement. For example, chopping fruit and veggies for younger kids can make it easier for them to eat and increases the likelihood that they’ll eat more produce. School food staff can place unflavored milk within hand’s reach and chocolate milk further away (or better yet, get rid of chocolate milk altogether).
  • Response B: There are grants available for facility changes, such as Salad Bars to Schools grants and USDA school food equipment grants.

Argument #5

Salad bars or breakfast-in-the-classroom [BIC] programs aren’t sanitary.

  • Response A: Thousands of schools across the country have shown that even kindergarteners can learn basic salad bar hygiene practices, such as only handling the food with tongs, with some initial guidance from school food staff and volunteers. Sneeze guards have also proved effective in ensuring sanitation. Furthermore, if the salad bar is positioned in front of the cashier, he or she can keep an eye on any sanitation issues.
  • Response B: Sanitation practices can be built into BIC, and students can help by removing the trash or wiping down their desks after eating.

Argument #6

Nutrition education activities, school gardens, and BIC take away from learning time.

  • Response: Nutrition education, school gardens, and BIC can be incorporated into math, science, social science, and language-arts lesson plans and the core curriculum. (See Educational Curriculum above for ways to integrate academic learning with food literacy.) Many school superintendents have issued memos declaring that breakfast in the classroom can be incorporated into instructional time.

Argument #7

Everyone expects school food to be bad. Parents who are concerned should pack lunches for their kids instead.

  • Response: The National School Lunch Program was established to ensure that every school child in this country has access to a healthy, nutritious meal each school day. Approximately 70% of children who eat school lunch qualify for free and reduced-price meals; this means that their access to healthy food isn’t guaranteed. At its heart, school lunch is a social justice issue. Not all families have the ability to pack a healthy school lunch every day for their children. One-third of our country’s children are overweight or obese, and another third face food insecurity. To dismiss school lunch as unimportant is to give complicit approval of the epidemic of malnutrition in our country, especially among children in lower socioeconomic groups.

Set Up a District Meeting

A district-wide meeting will be your rallying call to the community. You’ve conducted your research, determined priorities, figured out the strategies and action steps, explored programming possibilities, and engaged stakeholders and decision-makers. It’s time to go public with your work and educate and inspire the greater community. Here are some things to think about when planning your district-wide meeting:

  • Work with either the administration or school board to set up a presentation for the whole district. This public presentation may take place during a school board meeting.
  • Invite the food service director and a representative from the school administration to be a part of the meeting, and give them active roles. The administration and/or the school board may mandate the presence of certain representatives.
  • If the public presentation is not a school board meeting, work with the administration to book your meeting space well in advance. A school cafeteria is a great place to hold a meeting about school food, but an auditorium will also work well.
  • Use multiple media and communications vehicles to let the community know about the meeting. Possible outlets include:
    • District-wide newsletters (especially valuable if they go out to all households in the community, not just those with school-aged children)
    • PTO/PTA newsletters
    • School announcements that go home with students
    • Local public radio and television public service announcements (PSAs).
    • Media alerts to local newspapers, radio stations, and television news stations
    • Flyers and posters in schools, community businesses, and community centers
  • Consider offering healthy refreshments and childcare in order to increase attendance. Make sure your communications to the public include the fact that both will be available.
  • Invite the school board, administrators, teachers, school staff, students, all district residents, and representatives from local government and municipalities.

Set Up a District Meeting

A district-wide meeting will be your rallying call to the community. You’ve conducted your research, determined priorities, figured out the strategies and action steps, explored programming possibilities, and engaged stakeholders and decision-makers. It’s time to go public with your work and educate and inspire the greater community. Here are some things to think about when planning your district-wide meeting:

  • Work with either the administration or school board to set up a presentation for the whole district. This public presentation may take place during a school board meeting.
  • Invite the food service director and a representative from the school administration to be a part of the meeting, and give them active roles. The administration and/or the school board may mandate the presence of certain representatives.
  • If the public presentation is not a school board meeting, work with the administration to book your meeting space well in advance. A school cafeteria is a great place to hold a meeting about school food, but an auditorium will also work well.
  • Use multiple media and communications vehicles to let the community know about the meeting. Possible outlets include:
    • District-wide newsletters (especially valuable if they go out to all households in the community, not just those with school-aged children)
    • PTO/PTA newsletters
    • School announcements that go home with students
    • Local public radio and television public service announcements (PSAs).
    • Media alerts to local newspapers, radio stations, and television news stations
    • Flyers and posters in schools, community businesses, and community centers
  • Consider offering healthy refreshments and childcare in order to increase attendance. Make sure your communications to the public include the fact that both will be available.
  • Invite the school board, administrators, teachers, school staff, students, all district residents, and representatives from local government and municipalities.
  • Create an agenda for the meeting and determine the speakers, topic, order, and allotted duration of each talk. Below is a sample agenda. This may need to be abbreviated if your presentation is part of a school board meeting.
    • Welcome and introductions (10 minutes)
    • School administrator / FSD speak (5 minutes)
    • Introductory video (10 minutes)
    • Group presentation (15 minutes)
    • Call to action (5 minutes)
    • Q & A (15 minutes)
  • Plan for 60 minutes at most, and make sure to include at least 15 minutes at the end for Q&A and discussion.
  • Vary the speakers. It’s hard for an audience to maintain focus when one person talks the whole time.
  • If the food service director and/or an administrator attend, make sure you provide them with the option to speak.
  • Consider showing a brief video that introduces the current challenges that school food is facing and why it’s important. Check out Talking About School Food with Chef Ann or any of the other videos on the Chef Ann Foundation’s YouTube channel.
  • Include a variation of your PowerPoint presentation that you’ve adapted for your audience. Remember that for some folks, school food may be an entirely new topic.
  • Include your group’s goals and next steps. If the administration or the school board has already approved changes, make sure to mention that fact.
  • Also include ways that attendees can get involved – give them a call to action. You can ask people to serve as liaisons for individual schools (ideally, there would be a liaison at every school in the district) or as subcommittee members of your advocacy group. Subcommittees can be charged with accomplishing a certain set of action steps, such as creating a cafeteria volunteer program.
  • Follow-up after the district meeting – think ahead about what you’ll do if the meeting goes well, as well as what your options are if it goes poorly.

If the meeting doesn’t turn out as you had hoped, have your group brainstorm creative ways to increase awareness of school nutrition and to bring more attention to ways to improve your district’s school-food program. If your meeting had a positive outcome, focus on moving the decision-making forward.

Next Steps

Next steps will vary depending on your progress. For some groups, it may be a question of following up with administration to ensure action.

Others may focus on raising awareness instead of advocating for change. Next steps can include petitions, awareness events, and media engagement. The important thing is to maintain momentum and forward movement. Be sure to check out our Programs & Grants page for school program opportunities.

Next Steps

Next steps will vary depending on your progress. For some groups, it may be a question of following up with administration to ensure action.

Others may focus on raising awareness instead of advocating for change. Next steps can include petitions, awareness events, and media engagement. The important thing is to maintain momentum and forward movement. Be sure to check out our Programs & Grants page for school program opportunities.

Change happens slowly. It may seem that nothing is changing despite all of your efforts. But change is happening. The community is paying attention. School staff and administration will take action. Because of you.
Change happens slowly. It may seem that nothing is changing despite all of your efforts. But change is happening. The community is paying attention. School staff and administration will take action. Because of you.

Recommended Topic: Tools for Home

Our relationship with food starts at home – and healthy food can be fun! Here are a few educational resources to start your family’s food journey.

Recommended Topic: Tools for Home

Our relationship with food starts at home – and healthy food can be fun! Here are a few educational resources to start your family’s food journey.

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