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The Great Debate Over School Lunches

With the addition of debate skills to middle school curriculum at Pierre, SD’s Georgia Morse Middle School’s, 6th grade teacher Hilary Aden-Beeny decided to have her students debate a hot topic- the new USDA school meal nutrition regulations. Aden-Beeny had heard her students talking about them and some had complained. She thought this might be the perfect opportunity for the students to research the facts behind the updated Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act and then form an educated opinion.

Aden-Beeny, who supports her school’s efforts to participate in the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program, was excited to see what would happen and what kinds of ideas the students would bring forward based on their research. She divided the class into teams that were sent into the school to conduct interviews, polls and to conduct background research online. Groups were assigned the affirmative or negative opinion and built their arguments based on obesity data, research on caloric needs for teenagers and public opinion.

After nearly two weeks of research, it was apparent to Aden-Beeny that the majority of her students agreed with the intent and need for the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act. However, they still expressed a conflict between their minds and stomachs! Many shared they do want to eat healthy food and they enjoy them, but plain vegetables are still a hard sell. The students observed that there is a great deal of waste because many students do throw away the vegetables. Some suggested that more should be done to incorporate the vegetables into the main entrée rather than serving them raw and with dip.

The majority of students agreed that it is the role of the federal government to set national nutrition guidelines on food served in schools. Some students also made strong arguments for the need for the federal government to offer more help to school districts around making creative and more homemade, healthy school meals. One student acknowledged that “keeping meal planning at the local level is important because kids living in different regions of the United States have different preferences in the foods they eat.”

The students brought up the fact that they do hear kids complaining about still feeling hungry after the meal. Most students acknowledged, however, that if their peers actually ate everything they were given, they would probably not feel hungry. The students agreed that offering healthy snacks for sale to supplement the meal was a win-win for students and the school. One student shared, "Having healthy snack alternatives at lunch is a necessity. No two students are the same, nor are their daily caloric needs, so options need to be available. I do not think that snacks like candy bars and chips should be allowed, but healthy snacks like yogurt and granola bars should be."

Fully aware of a constant need to raise funds for the school, the students were interested in exploring the idea of selling healthy snacks through vending machines or a snack cart. Aden-Beeny encouraged the students to do some more research to figure out how much it would cost to start a healthy vending program and they learned how to read food labels and to find potential products using the Alliance’s Food Calculator and Navigator tools.

By teaching her students how to write an argument to support claims with clear reasons and strong evidence, Aden-Beeny checked the debate unit off of her to-do list while building student support for healthy changes in the school!

For more information about how the Alliance for a Healthier Generation is working with schools, companies, community organizations and families to help kids lead healthier lives, go to www.healthiergeneration.org. To learn more about the Healthy Schools Program opportunity available to a limited number of South Dakota schools, contact Kari Senger, Healthy Schools Program Manager for South Dakota at kari.senger@healthiergeneration.org
April 2013
Success Stories