Summer lunch programs promote healthy eating habits for students, their families and the entire community

Carol Greenwell, who runs the summer lunch
program for Bardstown City Schools, hands
Brennen Maddox a carton of fat-free milk after
he picks up lunch. (Photo by Jennifer Corbett)

Both school districts in Nelson County are whipping up a magic solution to childhood obesity, using a key ingredient to promoting healthy eating habits in children: their parents.  The summer school lunch programs not only serve healthy foods while providing education about them, but also establish partnerships with parents in the community to do the same.

School officials say the summer lunch programs are a way to instill healthy eating habits at an early age, in collaboration with parents.  If parents don’t encourage healthy eating habits early on, children’s health could suffer long-term and they are at greater risk for developing chronic diseases like heart disease and type two diabetes, writes Jennifer Corbett of The Kentucky Standard.

A recent Kids Count report says that in 2010, 17.4 percent of Nelson County children were considered obese, up by one-sixth since 2006, when the figure was 14.9 percent, notes Corbett.

Experts say that in order to encourage kids to take healthy steps to lose or maintain weight, or improve health, the whole family should be involved. For example, parents should think of fun, physical activities the whole family can do together, such as walking the dog or hiking.

“The best thing parents can do is be a good role model,” Jessica Bickett, a registered dietitian with the Lincoln Trail District Health Department, told Corbett. “If Mom and Dad walk around with a Mountain Dew in their hand all day, well guess what? The child will want to do it as well. If Mom says, ‘Go ride your bike’ while she sits on the couch watching TV, that doesn’t go too well.”

Schools also play a vital role in establishing a healthy lifestyle for students, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention., and Nelson County School Supt. Anthony Orr agrees. “We know nutrition is a really important part of growing up,” he told Corbett, adding that the summer lunch program “is a really good opportunity for the schools to serve the community.”

As part of the summer school lunch program, both Bardstown and Nelson County schools serve free breakfast and lunch to students, and adults can pay a small amount to eat, too. Orr is working to get the program into more schools because serving kids and their families introduces healthier choices to the students. This month, Bardstown established a district coordinated school health council focused on providing opportunities for all students to be active and to ensure that school food meets nutritional guidelines. These initiatives could serve as a model for a state that suffers from high childhood obesity and low health rankings. (Read more)

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