Just like reading, writing and arithmetic, making healthy food choices is a learned behavior. And as with those vital academic skills, schools also play an important role in helping students build a healthy foundation for their lives through sound nutrition – not just here in the U.S. but in schools around the world.
International School Meals Day, held on March 9 this year, provides a wonderful opportunity to highlight that fact by raising awareness of nutritious school meals and their importance to the health of our kids. In fact, nearly every country provides some form of school meal for about 368 million children each school day worldwide, including more than 30 million children here in the U.S. through USDA’s National School Lunch Program. And International School Meals Day brings the world a little closer, helping kids understand the importance of healthy nutrition to a healthy future.
One of the many fun aspects of International School Meals Day is to celebrate learning and teaching beyond the classroom walls through an online application called Skype. One such classroom in Ripon, Wis., had skyped another in Denver, Colo., during the 2014 International School Meals Day. Here, students shared information about their school, their region, food facts about their state, food choices, cultural foods and details about their school lunches. The event enabled students to exchange ideas about healthy meals and to foster a better understanding of diversity. As you can imagine, everyone had fun learning and sharing a few laughs.
Last year, an elementary school in Raleigh, N.C., skyped with a farmer thousands of miles away in Malawi, Africa. The teacher explained that during the session, the farmer showed students the process of planting maize (corn) for his family and the heavy homemade tools required for the task. He demonstrated how maize was transformed into nsima, Malawi’s staple food. More importantly, the session offered the children a valuable experience, igniting a greater awareness of healthy eating and highlighting various attitudes towards food found throughout the globe.
This year, International School Meals Day offers many ways to celebrate. Schools can host an international school menu day, arrange to skype with another classroom or learn about organizations that support school feeding programs in developing countries. Students, teachers and school nutrition professionals can also incorporate nutrition education into the classroom with the help of USDA materials. Some great examples can be found here: https://www.fns.usda.gov/team-nutrition and https://www.choosemyplate.gov/.
Classrooms and lunch rooms serve as learning laboratories that make nutrition a staple of education. USDA understands that good nutrition and healthy lifestyles are as critical to a child’s overall success as the curriculum taught in schools. And that’s a value worth celebrating all year long!