At your house, what does a “snack” mean? Cookies? Carrots? Candy? Cucumber slices? With the “Fuel for School” initiative, parents at 13 Montclair schools are working to make snack time healthy and educational for kids.
The initiative is being driven by the Montclair Public Schools Health and Wellness Partnership, which since 2001 has had a mission to “promote the physical, emotional and social well-being of students, staff and families of the Montclair Public Schools through increased access to quality services, education and information.” And there’s a free “Fuel for School” guide that offers up suggestions for bringing smarter snacking to classrooms, parties and special events at school.
“Fuel for School” began at Bradford Elementary School, when parent and mental health professional Sarah Forrest wanted to break the cycle of cupcakes and juice that rolled around every time there were shared snacks at school. Sure, kids want the sweet stuff (and don’t just want a plate of raw veggies when it’s party time), but Forrest figured there was a way to create a more balanced approach to serving snacks at Bradford.
“We are bombarded by advertising for heavily processed foods that are laden with salt, fats and sugar,” Forrest said, but she also knew “it was unrealistic to suggest that these foods be eliminated completely.” So the Health and Wellness Partnership began to advocate for smaller cupcakes, water instead of sugary juice-boxes, and non-food treats like stickers to pick up some of the slack.
The “Fuel for School” guide uses a red-light/yellow-light/green-light system to identify which foods should make up the bulk of a classroom snacks menu, and which ones should be doled out in moderation. The kids not only get a belly-full of better snacks, but they also learn to make healthier food choices for themselves. “The food guide, along with other initiatives to promote good eating habits, is helping our students be better prepared to learn,” says Forrest.
The “Fuel for School” guidelines are now used in all 10 of Montclair’s public elementary and middle schools, as well as three preschool centers in the township.
Joanne Aidala, the director and founder of Montclair Public Schools Health and Wellness Partnership, says the guide putting the guide into the hands of parents and teachers is just the first step. “Now it is up to families and school staff to put the tool into practice, to be willing to change long-established personal food habits,” she says. “Then, working as a community, we can expect to strengthen the crucial link between health and academic success.”