Fun Activities Take Focus off Food at School CelebrationsWest Virginia

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - School parties across Pendleton County are taking on a new look this year as educators strive to put the focus on fun instead of food. The West Virginia Board of Education earlier this year strengthened the school nutrition policy out of concern for the health and wellness of West Virginia students. The changes went into effect this fall.

School parties traditionally have centered on unhealthy food, such as cupcakes, cookies, candy, chips and sodas. These foods, in moderation, can be part of a healthy, well-balanced diet but all too often they had become the norm in many classrooms.

"We live in a different day and age when we have to be more concerned about the food served to children at school," said Pendleton County Superintendent Doug Lambert. "Not only must we be concerned with childhood obesity, food allergies and food recalls are now common occurrences."

Celebrations are a great way for children to feel part of the school community, where the learning environment is made festive and where children, teachers and parents can come together to enjoy a break from the routine. The focus, however, need not be on food. In fact, children usually are not as concerned about the foods that are offered as adults are.

As an alternative to the traditional celebrations, some schools are creating parties where carnival games, where children can win small toys, are the focus instead of parties with homemade goodies. When parents send in food, it is difficult to ensure the safety of children with food allergies.

The Policy 4321.1 Standards for School Nutrition limits beverages to water; 100 percent fruit juice; low fat or skim milk, either plain or flavored; or low fat yogurt smoothies. Dairy products, such as low fat yogurt, cheese cubes or string cheese, are good options. Fruits and vegetables, either fresh or dried, also can be served. Whole grain products, no more than one ounce, such as baked chips; unsalted pretzels; graham or animal crackers; or rice cakes also can be served. All foods must be commercially packaged or sealed.

"We want to provide a consistent message that supports important lessons about health, instead of contradicting them," Pendleton County Board of Education President JD Wilkins said. "Children will be excited about anything different, especially something that is fun."

Schools also can involve children in planning and preparing for the party, such as letting them make decorations and favors and help plan the menu.

"Although many of today's health concerns did not originate at school, our public schools are uniquely positioned to educate, model and reinforce healthy eating behaviors," Pendleton County Superintendent Doug Lambert said. "We have to ensure that foods and beverages available at school will contribute to an overall healthful eating environment for children."

To learn more about the state's school nutrition policy, see the West Virginia Department of Education's Web site or contact the Office of Communications at (304) 558-2699.