Putting a competitive edge to healthy eating

 

LunchWhen Child Nutrition Services Director Karen Kovach first heard about Sodexo’s Healthy High School Challenge, she had no idea how wildly popular—and successful—it would be with teachers and students in the Georgetown Independent School District.

It started in 2011 as a fun and interactive challenge to engage students to make healthier choices when it comes to selecting the food they consume. In a six-week promotion from November 4 through December 16, Sodexo, Inc., the company Georgetown ISD has contracted with to provide food for all cafeterias in the school district, offered a total of $50,000 in prize money to the schools whose students purchased the greatest number of nutritious meals, drinks, and snacks from the cafeteria.

The Challenge, scheduled immediately before school let out for last year’s winter holidays, was well timed and well received. Even students who regularly brought their own lunches were drawn to the appeal of earning money for their schools and student organizations. “Everyone chipped in,” says Karen, who reports that participation was widespread, with faculty and staff frequently joining the students in purchasing healthy meals.

Points were awarded in three categories: most combo meals sold, most healthy snacks, and a final category that was a combination of the other two. Students were then awarded points for items sold. The school could earn double points for purchasing the featured healthy snack of the week, says Karen, citing yogurt, granola bars and graham crackers as examples of healthy snacks sold. “And the principal at East View would announce the featured item on the intercom to remind people and get them to participate,” she says.

It turns out that playing to students’ competitive nature and desire to earn money for their schools proved to be a successful method for getting students to eat more healthfully; all three Georgetown schools reigned victorious. In all, Georgetown high schools were awarded a total of $7,500, fifteen percent of the initial pot. East View High School won the top honor in the national competition and was awarded $5,000 in prize money; Georgetown High School won second in class and was awarded $2,000; and Richarte was given an honorable mention and awarded $500.

All prize money was allocated to the schools’ student councils, respectively. “East View was a brand-new organization with zero money in their student council treasury,” Karen says. “It was good to see that money go to Georgetown.”

And, Karen adds, the Healthy High School Challenge for 2012 is well underway. Whether the students take the top prize this year or not, they’re learning best practices that they can use to shape their food choices and bolster their health for years to come. Good job, GISD students!

By Rachel Brownlow

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