The HealthierUS School Challenge
Recognizing Excellence in Nutrition and Physical Activity
We need your help in getting more schools to participate in the HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms (HUSSC: SL). The HUSSC: SL is a voluntary, nationwide award program established by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to recognize those schools creating healthier school environments through their promotion of good nutrition and physical activity. Four levels of superior performance are awarded: Bronze, Silver, Gold and Gold Award of Distinction.
Help Schools Get Involved with the HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms
You can take an active role to help a school apply to be a HUSSC School in a few different ways:
- Learn more about the HUSSC: SL objectives, eligibility criteria and application details so you can help your school apply.
- Speak to the School Nutrition Director to understand the local school's specific schedules, operations and National School Lunch Program requirements.
- Find out if your school is a Team Nutrition School. If not, ask if you can assist in the enrollment process.
- Ask to join or create the school's wellness team. If the school does not have a wellness team, help assemble one. The team should include any staff responsible for providing nutrition/health education, and principal or other school administrator.
- Review the HUSSC criteria with the wellness team and determine the award level for which the school will apply.
- Get a copy of the Application Kit.
Assisting School Food Service Staff:
- Work with school food service staff to brainstorm ways to enhance menus by incorporating more whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and dry beans or peas (legumes) into the menu. The USDA Recipes for Schools is a great resource. These recipes are currently being updated to meet the Nutrition Standards for School Meals meal pattern requirements. The recipes can be found at What’s Cooking? USDA Mixing Bowl. Another useful resource for schools is the Institute of Child Nutrition’s HealthierUS School Challenge: Smarter Lunchrooms.
- Offer to demonstrate and train food service staff on cooking techniques that will help the school serve healthier meals, such as steaming vegetables; and help lower the fat and sodium content of foods, while still keeping the items kid-friendly and tasty.
- Teach and reinforce food safety best practices that support the school's food safety program, and also serve as a role model for implementing food safety when doing food demonstrations.
- Assist staff with creating a rainbow salad bar that features ingredients that meet HUSSC requirements (e.g., suggest food items and safe set-up and handling of foods) and plan activities to get children excited about salads.
- Suggest ways to present food so it is attractively served.
- Talk to students (and teachers) about what it's like being a professional chef and why you volunteered to be a part of Chefs Move to Schools.
- Conduct cafeteria or classroom tasting parties with new items and generate excitement about healthy food options. Gather students' opinions of foods by food preference surveys.
- Celebrate new tastes in schools by featuring samples of new food items in a variety of ways: showing new spices, herbs, grains, fruits or vegetables not generally used for schools and healthy ways to prepare favorite foods.
- Offer to conduct cooking demonstrations at a school health fair to promote fruits, vegetables, dry beans and peas (legumes), lean meats, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat milk products.
- Work with food service staff to instill in students a sense of food appreciation, from seed to plate: how it is grown, where it is grown, and how it is prepared and served.
- Suggest a behind-the-scenes tour of the school kitchen with the school cafeteria manager/school food service director to demonstrate how healthy menu items are prepared.
- Plant a garden. School gardens offer opportunities for fun and physical activity and can serve as a tool to help students understand how healthful food is produced.
- Incorporate school gardens into classroom lessons (e.g., science, cooking) to provide students with hands-on, multi-disciplinary learning activities. Check out USDA Team Nutrition’s free, garden-based nutrition education curricula, which includes lessons that can be integrated into core educational subjects, such as math, English language arts, and science.
Working with parents and the entire school community:
- Organize cooking demonstrations/classes with parents and students in the evenings and with teachers and students during the day. Classes should feature recipes with whole grains, dark green and orange vegetables, and dry beans and peas; ideas for healthy snacking and emphasize the importance of portion size.
- Lead a Junior Chef Competition, whereby teams of students, chefs, school nutrition professionals, and other adult mentors work together to develop appealing meals that comply with the National School Lunch Program nutrition standards. Check out the Junior Chef Competition Toolkit for sample rules, forms, and guidelines to enable your school to host the competition.
- Provide marketing and food presentation techniques so the school community can motivate children to select and eat healthier foods.
- Help promote and market the positive activities occurring in the school cafeteria.
- Invite farmers to come to school or set up farm field trips so schools can further make the link between agriculture and nutritious food.
Whatever ideas you have to help schools meet the HUSSC: SL, it is important to build on what is already happening around the school. Creating healthier schools is a team effort, and delicious food is a great way to bring everyone to the table.