The stereotype of tweens and teens today is that they’ve got their heads down looking at a smart phone and an arm reaching for the nearest processed convenience food. But as middle and high school teachers, we see these emerging young leaders as so much more. We see their interest in eating local foods and in growing school gardens, and we see their passion in finding physical activities that make their bodies and minds happy. Read on for 10 ways we can stoke that fire in our students for healthy living.
1. Stress that breakfast is an important way to start the day.
Whether your school provides breakfast for students or they are eating at home, use your role as a consistent voice in their weekday mornings to emphasize that breakfast should not be skipped. Survey your students to see if they are too rushed to eat in the mornings, or if they are skipping the meal for other reasons. If you find a pattern of breakfast-skipping, work on incorporating breakfast programs such as Breakfast in the Classroom, Breakfast after First Period and Grab and Go Breakfast. An increase in breakfasting by students may very well result in improved academic performance, according to research.
2. Include offline assignments.
Web-based research and digital work are homework hallmarks for modern middle and high school students. But when we assign work that takes students away from a screen, we benefit both their bodies and minds. Explore outdoor learning activities, lessons that incorporate physical activity, and other offline assignments.
3. Share your own fitness passion.
When taking on extracurricular advisor jobs, choose roles that get students moving. From serving as a Marathon Kids or Girls on the Run leader, to coaching a sport you love or simply starting an outdoor club, your volunteerism will have a big impact in teaching your students the importance of physical activity. And if you get a bit of a workout during your after-school hours, all the better!
4. Get teens excited about fresh, local foods.
We teachers know that the days we bring in treats for our students are always huge hits. So next time, instead of hitting your grocery store for snacks, stop by a local farm or farmers’ market. Share with students information about the farm, explore the products grown locally, and use delicious farm-to-school foods as a launch pad for nutrition and community learning, and don’t forget to highlight that dairy is local, fresh and always in season!
5. Remind students that physical exercise doesn’t end with school athletics.
Sometimes it’s easy for middle and high school students to think of organized sports as the only avenue for fitness. Help your students see the multitude of fitness options that exist for their own happiness and physical health. Talk about resources such as hiking trails, community yoga or dance classes, newbie running apps and more ways that students can get moving, even if they are not on a formal team.
6. Highlight the healthiest snack options.
Tweens and teens need fuel throughout the day to support growth and activity, so snacks play a big role in their days. Help them find the healthiest options for mid-day fueling at school (beyond the chocolate-bar fundraisers!). Discuss the most nutrient-packed options in the cafeteria and vending machines and highlight the healthiest snack options on campus.
7. Incorporate nutrition into science lessons.
Whether your subject matter is biology, physics or chemistry, there is always a place within the curriculum to draw in some nutrition science. Nutrition lessons draw on tasks students do every day—choosing meals and snacks—and should pique their interest. Educating students on the science of nutrition is also a powerful way to combat the confusing food information they may be hearing from diet-obsessed peers and the media.
8. Encourage longer lunchtimes.
We know that the school day and individual classroom periods seem limited, but research shows that extra minutes at lunchtime equal more time for students to make healthy meal choices and consume healthier foods. Plenty of time to eat also provides more mental health breaks for students, allowing them to socialize and relax. Can you help your school administration find ways to lengthen lunch periods or adjust the schedule in any way?
9. Provide a healthy dose of extra credit.
If you are feeling fired up about the need for health education, spread that enthusiasm to your students through exercise and nutrition extra-credit opportunities. Can students design healthier school menus? Research the process and create a home garden? Lead their class in creative physical activity breaks? Options abound for students to become impassioned about their personal and school-wide health.
10. Encourage students to serve as Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassadors.
Fuel Up to Play 60 is an in-school wellness program from the National Dairy Council and the National Football League, in collaboration with the United States Department of Agriculture. The Fuel Up to Play 60 Student Ambassadors Program is an effective blueprint for student-led healthy changes in your school. Students earn points by tracking healthy leadership activities on their Fuel Up to Play 60 Dashboard, and after reaching 45,000 points they can apply to become a Fuel Up to Play 60 State Student Ambassador and participate in events like the annual Student Ambassador Summit, meet NFL players, attract media coverage and win sweet prizes. Most of all, they will be empowered as leaders to improve healthy choices in their school communities and in their own lives.