Parents Should Keep Children Safe In School

Armen Hareyan's picture
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Just in time for back-to-school, Dairy Council of California's SAFE checklist helps parents evaluate and promote a healthy school environment for their children.

Each year, children spend over 1,000 hours and eat 180 meals at school, making it an important part of their development. In the school setting, a healthy, SAFE environment includes parent Support, physical Activity, nourishing Food and nutrition Education (SAFE).

"When healthy foods and physical activity are available and encouraged in multiple settings, children receive a consistent message and are more likely to develop healthy habits that will last a lifetime," said Andrea Garen, M.A., R.D., with Dairy Council of California. "The SAFE checklist is a tool that can help parents start a positive dialogue with school professionals that supports students in making healthy food choices in and out of school."

A healthy lifestyle includes eating from all five of the food groups according to USDA's MyPyramid food guidance system and making physical activity part of daily life. Nutrient-rich food choices like low-fat or fat-free milk, whole grains, colorful fruits and vegetables and lean meats provide essential nutrients like calcium, magnesium, potassium, protein and vitamins A, B-12, C and D that are needed for healthy growth and development. Regular physical activity helps children build strong bones and maintain a healthy weight. Excluding entire food groups or avoiding regular exercise can have serious consequences, such as increasing the risk of bone fractures, obesity and other chronic diseases.

"Creating a healthy school environment is a team effort that involves the teachers, administrators, students, school food-service personnel and parents," said Garen. "Back-to-school is a great time for parents to become involved, as many districts have already started to implement school wellness policies with goals for nutrition education, physical activity and other student wellness activities."

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The SAFE checklist, available at Meals Matter, a free meal-planning and nutrition website provided by Dairy Council of California, includes questions and a call to action that gets parents engaged in improving the school environment. Parents should use the SAFE school checklist as a guide to fostering a healthy school environment that includes these key components. Sample questions include:

-- Is nutrition education provided in the classroom? Does it teach children the skills they need to adopt healthy eating behaviors? Dairy Council of California, as well as other state and private organizations, offers age-appropriate curriculums that equip children to make healthy food and activity decisions.

-- Does the school have a lunch and/or breakfast program for all students?

-- Do elementary school students have at least 20 minutes for recess each day?

-- How can I get involved in the school's local wellness policy?

In addition to the new SAFE checklist for a healthy school environment, the Meals Matter website at www.mealsmatter.org has a variety of interactive meal-planning tools that make healthy eating easier. A timely back-to-school section features tips on packing a healthy lunch box, ideas for after-school snacks and a variety of articles, including ones addressing the important link between a healthy breakfast and optimal classroom performance.

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