Nutrition Advisory Councils (NACs) are student-based focus groups that enhance the wellness environment on elementary, middle and high school campuses throughout San Marcos Unified School District by promoting how good nutrition, physical activity, and school meal programs contribute to wellness.
In previous years, the primary focus of the NACs has been food sampling and trying out new foods for inclusion on school menus. This year, however, the program’s curriculum has been revised to include additional components to enhance the students’ learning.
NACs develop peer-to-peer marketing to promote healthy foods and beverages in cooperation with the school nutrition program at their school sites. Students teach their peers about nutrition education and share the benefits of healthy eating and physical activity with each other. NAC students also sample new healthy menu items in cooperation with Child Nutrition Services.
Not only is the revised curriculum much more comprehensive, it’s also unique. Bits and pieces from existing curriculum from various sources that are aligned with California Content Standards have been utilized in the creation of the program’s lesson plans.
The monthly projects allow students to be creative and interactive while enhancing their school's wellness environment. Students participate in a wide variety of assignments ranging from the creation of marketing materials to skits and plays that they showcase to the student body.
Projects last throughout the month and lead up to NAC Day, a special event near the end of each month in which the new food item is served as part of the schools’ cafeteria lunch menu for the day. Depending on the item, it might be available to students as one of the day’s entrées or included on the cafeteria’s salad bar. In addition to their marketing efforts, NAC students often participate in serving the new food items to their peers.
More than 450 elementary and middle-school students have directly benefited from the NACs. Through the framework of the program and incorporation of NAC Day, whole school sites have been exposed to a new food item each month and have been able to try the new food options in their cafeterias.
The revised NAC program has been well received by district staff, teachers, and students. In fact, students’ participation has resulted in a heightened awareness for what they’re consuming in terms of nutrient content and healthier alternatives available to them.
“You see them bringing more fruit snacks and vegetables to school,” said Robin Falk, a fifth-grade teacher at Alvin Dunn Elementary School, one of the 11 elementary schools currently engaged in the NAC program. “I would say that’s one of the greatest things. It’s not just a willingness to try something new, but a visible excitement for healthier options. Not only are my kids learning, but they’re going out and they’re teaching their friends. I think that sometimes kids learn best from their peers. It has just made them such great leaders. They feel empowered and responsible to teach others what they learn each month.”
Participating students anticipate monthly lessons and truly enjoy being a part of the program.
"My favorite part of the N.A.C. program is we get to learn new stuff about food, like how much fat is in it,” said Jaclyn Batiz, a fifth-grader at Alvin Dunn Elementary School. “Nutrition is always fun with N.A.C., and we get to present nutrition information to the other students at Friday Flag Salutes."
In July 2011, San Marcos Unified School District added its N.A.C.s to the district’s wellness policy, meeting one of the deliverables of the Healthy Works grant.
“Our District has continuously worked to further the levels of good nutrition and school wellness for our students throughout the District,” said Dena England, director of Child Nutrition Services and chair of the District Health Council. “After implementing the N.A.C. Program at three school sites, it was determined that the program was a valuable nutrition education asset to the District and therefore must be included in the District Wellness Policy. Our students and staff have truly embraced its addition.”
England said that it is the district’s hope that schools will continue to embrace the N.A.C. program and promote healthier food options on their campuses.
“It would be a wonderful model for other districts,” England said.