Is your school doing these four things to promote K-12 Health education outside the classroom?

Here’s the good news: You don’t have to be a health and wellness professional to influence kids’ healthy choices. As educators and school staff, the decisions we make every day can make an impact and set a healthy example. The earlier our students get in the habit of making healthy choices and understanding the reasons behind those decisions, the more likely those ideas will become second nature and stick with them for the long-term. 

Simple choices like regular exercise, keeping a positive mindset, eating a balanced diet, and practicing gratitude can play a significant role in positive mental and physical health. Students who feel better, learn better. A healthy body and mind can mean improved classroom engagement, longer attention spans, and even healthier relationships between students and their families. 

While we usually think of healthy habits starting at home, the culture of your school can have a big influence on your students’ personal choices, now and as they grow. As schools and providers, we have a responsibility to start nurturing those healthy habits as early as possible in the classroom and beyond. 

For example, your dining program is a great place to start promoting healthy habits. Introducing kids to new tastes, making nutritious choices available and enticing, and modeling healthy habits can make a big impact on developing minds and bodies. 

Does your school promote lifelong healthy habits? 

Is positivity a part of your culture? 

We all know that mental and physical health are linked; it seems a new study comes out every week explaining how our mindset and physical well-being depend on each other. As teachers, administrators, counselors and school staff, we are in an exceptional position to influence the outlook and mindset of our students by modeling a positive attitude. After all, we’re in close contact with kids all day, and they’re looking to us for their social cues. 

A friendly smile, positive interactions between staff members, and even calling students by name can go a long way. Something as simple as hearing “have a great day” from the dining hall cashier might seem trivial, (and you might wonder if they’re even listening), but every single interaction contributes to your school’s culture as a whole. Make sure your staff radiates positivity into your students’ lives; it’s one of the most important gifts you can give them. When a student feels valued, their self-esteem and sense of self-worth improves, and they’re more likely to make healthy choices that impact their physical and mental well-being. 

Are you promoting good nutrition? 

One of the most direct ways we can impact students’ healthy choices is through our food service offerings. Make sure that your food service provider’s planning is aligned with your health and wellness values as a school. Whether it’s accommodating healthy dietary choices like vegetarian or vegan options, highlighting important nutrition information, or improving access to healthy food, your food service provider should play an active role in helping you shape your students’ attitudes toward lifelong health. 

Students are spending a large part of their waking hours during the week in your school; it’s a perfect opportunity to promote healthy choices and habits in the materials and initiatives you already have in place. Talk to your food service provider about internal marketing strategies for promoting healthy choices with posters and signage, incentives for eating well, and ways to demonstrate the benefits of healthy living. A little creativity can go a long way toward promoting carrot sticks over chips, and it’s those little steps that turn into bigger habits and attitudes. 

Your food service provider should be in constant communication with you about fresh, healthy options and menu items, giving you specialized guidance on how to present new foods and encourage your students to enjoy them. 

As teachers and staff, modeling healthy eating habits and food choices is more important than it might seem. If a third grader watches you pull an apple out of your bag for a midday snack instead of returning from lunch with a bag of fast food, they’re receiving a message from you about how you approach your own health and habits. 

Are you listening to students and families? 

Your students’ and families’ voices matter, especially when it comes to nutrition and healthy choices at school. Most students and families are more than happy to share feedback and value the opportunity to make their voices heard. Ask your students and families what options and activities they’d like to see more or less of at your school; get their feedback on new menu ideas or wellness initiatives, and listen to their responses. An honest dialogue keeps your school in touch with the people who matter most, and allows you to support the healthy choices and habits your students and families are working to establish.

Are you bridging the gap between school and home? 

As a school, you are in the unique position to not only influence your students’ habits, but to make an impact on their families’ health as well. Talking to your students about healthy choices at school can lead to greater health and wellness awareness at home, too. Help students bring healthy habits home by communicating with families often via newsletters and emails; sharing tips and recipes; suggesting ideas for family exercise; or hosting family events that focus on boosting health and wellness.

Healthy choices that start early in life are more likely to become long-term habits as kids become adults. Helping them understand healthy options now has a huge ripple effect into the future. A child with healthy habits built into their school experience is more likely to lead a happier, healthier, more productive life, and pass those choices on to their own children as well. 

What healthy habits have you encouraged today?