Mission Middle School in Escondido Union School District (EUSD) already exemplified a positive and healthy lifestyle environment when school administration first invited community partners to work on student and school wellness. Students, parents, and the school were actively growing and maintaining a school garden, the “A to Z” vegetable menu in the cafeteria, and colorful vegetable artwork posted on campus, among other school-wide efforts. With all of these promising efforts already taking place, Mission Middle School leveraged the work of the North Inland Communities of Excellence in Nutrition, Physical Activity, and Obesity Prevention(CX3) team to build sustainable success. The CX3 team is a group of engaged community stakeholders that includes residents who have been trained in policy, systems, and environmental change strategies. The team also includes staff from the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency (HHSA) North Inland Region.
Local community-based organization Escondido Education COMPACT stepped in as a part of this team to take Mission Middle School’s progress to the next level by bringing tools, resources, and education about additional healthy lifestyle improvements the school could make in order to sustain its momentum. COMPACT is funded to do this work as a part of the County of San Diego Health and Human Services Agency’s (HHSA) Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention (NEOP) Program.
During the 2014-2015 school year, one of the major strategies Mission Middle School and its partners used to increase school health was parent engagement through Parent Lunch events. The purpose of Parent Lunch events was to encourage parents to eat lunch at school with their kids so that they could better understand the nutritional environments their children were exposed to each day, and how families could prepare healthier meals both in and outside of the school day for their children. COMPACT provided education to encourage healthy eating habits during these Parent Lunch events, and a healthy recipe was incorporated into the Parent Lunch menu. Additionally, COMPACT worked with school administration on some Smarter Lunchroom Strategies, such as milk placement in the cafeteria to prioritize display of low-fat milk over chocolate milk.
At the beginning of these events, the need for education was clear; some parents were bringing food on campus that was high in fat and sugars. EUSD Nutrition Services and COMPACT recognized the need to join forces to not only educate parents, but also provide resources to empower them to make better choices. They agreed that an integral part of their strategy had to include changes to the school food environment. For example, they began placing the cartons of low-fat white milk in front of the cartons of chocolate milk, making the healthy choice the easy choice.
Incorporating a healthy recipe into the menu for a Parent Lunch highlighted EUSD's Nutrition Services’ willingness to serve healthy, culturally appropriate food that students and families were accustomed to eating at home. Plans are in the works to have this new recipe permanently added to the menu and available at more EUSD elementary schools. Additionally, throughout the entire district, Nutrition Services has placed low-fat white milk in the front of the cafeteria milk section in an effort to allow students to be more conscious of their food choices and to encourage them to drink unflavored low-fat milk. In the future, COMPACT will be looking to continue collaboration with the CX3 team to establish an ongoing nutrition and physical activity program at the school garden.
By Daniel Barajas, Escondido Unified School District
This material was produced by the California Department of Public Health’s Nutrition Education and Obesity Prevention Branch with funding from USDA SNAP-Ed, known in California as CalFresh. These institutions are equal opportunity providers and employers. CalFresh provides assistance to low-income households and can help buy nutritious food for better health. For CalFresh information, call 1-877-847-3663. For important nutrition information, visit www.CaChampionsForChange.net.