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Take Action on Outside Food & School Fundraising

photo by derek hatfield/flickr
photo by derek hatfield/flickr

Just a few weeks ago, my daughters’ swim team hosted a school fundraising event: a car wash to offset the expense of team swimsuits and goggles. The swimmers did the work of washing cars, advertising, and successfully raised enough money to offset about 50% of the cost of these items for each swimmer.

This is what I call fundraising in a healthy way—raising money through work, like washing cars or other service opportunities. Even door-to-door sales of useful items, like wrapping paper (I miss ordering my Christmas wrap in September!), are a better option than traditional food-based fundraising efforts.

One of the best fundraisers my own kids were involved in was a run-a-thon where they got “paid” by supporters for their accumulated mileage over a week’s time. A percentage of the funds went into the school’s coffers. Health and wealth wrapped into one fundraiser—now that’s a healthy fundraiser!

I’m not a fan of school fundraising that undermines our kids’ health, or competitive foods that don’t add to children’s overall health at school. Peddling frozen cookie dough, candy bars, or other unhealthy food items, and even weekly bake sales, concession stands, and after-school snacks are a growing threat to our kids’ health.

With four kids, I have had my fair share of fundraising opportunities over the years, some of which I have chosen not to participate in—no thanks, cookie dough– and others in which I felt I had to participate in, such as the required grade level bake sales.

It’s not easy to straddle “normal” mom and “registered dietitian” in the school food arena, particularly when your children are attending the school! But I have found ways to challenge the system over the years, and I hope my account here will inspire you to get involved.

Once, I testified at my state legislature against allowing large drink portions (12 ounces minimum) in vending machines at schools. I’ll never forget the rebuttal testimony from school leaders who stated they wouldn’t meet their budget needs without vending sales. I recognized then how closely tied school may be to their vending machines.

I have chaired the school concession stand and fought to get healthier fare on the menu, often to the tune of “IT WON’T SELL.” And to be fair, sometimes fruit didn’t sell, but sometimes it did.
Click Here to Grab My Healthy Concession Stand Make-Over

I have helped the local high school plan healthy snacks during finals week, instead of the candy that was requested by, ahem, certain teachers stating “It’s our tradition.” It’s surprising, and hard, when the people you expect to back you up, don’t. In any case, the teens appreciated the assortment of popcorn, granola bars, fruit and water, and didn’t seem to miss the candy.

I have been a member of two school Wellness Committees and spear-headed the writing of a wellness policy that eradicated birthday party food, put guidelines in place for concession items and after-school sports snacks, and eliminated the monthly bake sale, in addition to other school-wide health initiatives.

I was called “mean,” by a few parents and accused of “taking away a child’s right to cupcakes on birthdays.” Those comments hurt my feelings, but I stayed the course, keeping my eye on the greater good—helping to make the school environment a place where kids could be healthy and eat well, while supporting parents who were trying to do the same at home.

Over the years, I have tried to make an impact in schools. While my efforts have been small in the scheme of things, I’ve learned that every little step leads to another, creating awareness, creativity, and a momentum for change. I hope some of my journey in school nutrition will inspire some of yours. How are you taking action in your school?

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