26 Nov GYFS/HSG Pilot Program Participant Rebecca Battles: Encouraging Communities to Help Raise Healthy Kids
Rebecca Battles and her husband live in Woodbridge, VA with their 4-year-old son, Collin. Having moved in August to Northern Virginia from Dallas, where her family lived for the previous nine years, Rebecca is keenly aware of the health influences various communities can have on families.
“Of our friend playgroup here, about 60% eat healthy, but in Texas, I was definitely the outlier,” says Rebecca, who has been passionate about healthy eating ever since she became pregnant with her son. “My child doesn’t eat pizza and he has never been to McDonalds. It’s not something his appetite wants, and I believe that is because we started very early with encouraging good nutrition,” explains Rebecca.
Instead of eating processed foods, Rebecca’s son Collin likes to snack on carrots, edamame, and broccoli. Rebecca tries to only buy products made from five ingredients or less, if possible, and has taught her son to count the number of ingredients on boxes to determine if they are healthy or not. If her son can’t pronounce the ingredients, they don’t buy it.
“We talk to him about food and I feel if I keep him making healthy choices, we will keep making healthy choices. That helps, and we really have focused with him on why we do things. I have never hidden vegetables in brownies, for example,” says Rebecca, who wants to enforce that eating vegetables is a good thing. Given the connection he has built with food, Collin now “likes to be involved in the kitchen and in the process” of creating nutritious meals.
“In our family, is more about the education piece than everything else. We have big bowls of fruit sitting out and are good about having him [Collin] eat fresh fruits and veggies. We also believe that moderation is everything. A candy bar once a year is okay, but not every week.”
When asked what barriers she thought members of her community might be facing when it comes to eating healthier, Rebecca said she thinks “there is a mental block that cooking healthy takes too much time.” Really, she believes, it is about prioritization and organization—and also realizing that there are timesaving shortcuts to be made.
“My sister-in-law doesn’t like to cook. I made her pull out her crockpot, put in ingredients in the morning, and we came home to a home-cooked meal that evening.” Rebecca, who works full time, thinks that overcoming these mental barriers is the most important step parents can take in improving the health of their families.
For kids, Rebecca sees the two key elements as presentation and what she calls “the blind taste test.” Making sure food looks appealing and is colorful helps encourage kids to try new dishes, as does making meals kid-friendly. “We use cookie cutters and skewers to create unique, fun shapes,” says Rebecca. And if she doesn’t think Collin will like the look of a new food, she’ll ask him to try a “surprise bite”—putting a small piece of tofu between graham crackers, for example, and having him taste it with his eyes closed. She finds this helps him base preferences more on taste and less on appearance, and also makes the unfamiliarity with certain foods an opportunity for adventurous eating.
In terms of the role of the broader community, Rebecca said she thinks that the two biggest influencers for children are church and school. “I took my child out of the nursery at church because they were feeding him donut holes and frosted animal cookies at 9 o’clock in the morning,” reiterating her belief that it everyone’s responsibility in the community to encourage sound nutritional habits.
Rebecca also believes that “it goes back to schools and the way schools provide food,” and laments that many school-served lunches are unappetizing and uninventive. Rather than focusing on serving a large quantity of mediocre-quality food, much of which goes uneaten, Rebecca feels schools should concentrate on offering high-quality meals that students will be excited to eat. “We need to make food look like it doesn’t come out of a freezer,” she says. “If food looks and tastes like rubber, why would you try to eat it again?”
Hope Street Group Healthy Policy Insights
Rebecca shares in the sentiment that it “takes a village” to ensure that children grow up eating healthy foods. In particular, she sees the importance schools play in a child’s early (and ongoing) nutritional education. Below are a couple of shining examples of school districts that are executing innovative ideas to increase student health and wellness:
The Boulder Valley School District’s School Food Project in Boulder, CO, has revamped its school lunch menus to provide wholesome, locally sourced, and kid-friendly foods. Offerings include gluten-free salad bars with handmade dressings, homemade corn and black bean veggie burgers, and antibiotic-free and hormone-free beef. Some of the produce even comes from the school’s own gardens!
An example of the school menu, which eschews processed sugars and flours and partially hydrogenated fats, is available here.
You can also watch a video explaining the school’s transformation here.
The Minneapolis Public Schools Farm to School Program makes a conscious effort to purchase produce that is locally grown, to educate students on healthy eating and local foods, and to engage the broader community in their efforts. Through a federal grant, they participate in the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which “provides a fresh fruit or vegetable snack to all students in qualifying elementary schools” on a daily basis. Their True Food taste-test program also encourages students to try new foods, such as Moroccan Bean Salad.
A video about the school’s fresh, local foods movement is available here.
For a list of other innovative school lunch programs, check out this wonderful, interactive article by Delish.com: http://www.delish.com/recipes/cooking-recipes/best-school-cafeterias
Interested in learning more about the healthy schools movement?
Check out these great individuals and organizations making concerted efforts to scale healthy eating programs nationwide through public education, community mobilization and policy advocacy:
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
Jamie Oliver, a renowned British Chef and media personality, is passionate about creating “a national movement to change the way America eats,” which calls for “more cooking at home, freshly cooked meals at school, and cooking in the community,” as well as greater investments made by corporations, schools and communities in the health of children.
An independent, not-for-profit organization based out of Chicago, IL, Healthy Schools Campaign “advocates for policies and practices that allow all students, teachers and staff to learn and work in a healthy school environment.”
As part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move! Initiative, the Chefs Move to Schools Program “creates a platform for chefs and schools to create partnerships in their communities with the mission of collaboratively educating kids about food and healthy eating.”
What do you think it will take to encourage schools to be better champions of children’s health?
Please feel free to share your thoughts with us below!