We’ve learned this week that the key to a successful and integrated Farm to School effort is participation: by parents, administrators, organizations like Local Food Hub, and even farmers. It’s also become clear that healthy eating at school is about more than what’s on the lunch tray. Today, we’re sharing with you another example of how parents can get involved—this time in Albemarle County at Brownsville Elementary.
BEE Healthy is a program developed by the Brownsville Elementary PTO and designed to provide the 700 students and 75 teachers and administrators with fresh, healthy snacks. We spoke with PTO President Heather Marcel and PTO Member Corie King about their involvement.
Heather: The mission of BEE Healthy is to foster healthy eating habits in elementary age children. We want to demonstrate nutritious foods taste great and provide the energy needed to play and learn to a child’s maximum ability. The idea came about at one of our meetings when a group of parents, including Phoebe Fliakos, Corie King, Katherine Merhige, and Nancy Bond wanted to find healthier options for their kids’ class parties.
Corie: Our group has been offering free healthy snacks to the students and staff of Brownsville once a month for the past year. We always use healthy, local (if possible) foods that children will enjoy and become more interested in eating. This year we have a small budget designated to snacks within the PTO budget but we also welcome donations. The BEE Healthy Committee does all the preparatory work including buying, transporting, washing, and distributing the snacks to the classrooms. We divide the snacks among trays and deliver to each classroom, making sure to account for any allergies that may be present.
2. What kind of snack items have you served to the kids? Any that are particular favorites?
Heather: We’ve served the kids everything from hummus and carrots (surprisingly a favorite!), to apples and cherry tomatoes—anything we can find that is typically in season and (hopefully!) local. We’ll even have some butternut squash soup in December!
Corie: Last year we served fresh cherries from Mr. and Mrs. Chiles which were a huge hit with almost everyone.
Heather: We’ve had a great response from the PTO, parents, teachers, and school administrators. We hope to start posting a healthy recipe of the month soon to our PTO website as many teachers and parents have asked for this.
Corie: From the very beginning of the program, we have received positive feedback. Our committee is responsible for obtaining, preparing, and distributing the snacks to everyone, so who wouldn’t be happy for yummy, nutritious food delivered to the classroom? Along with the snacks, we share where the snacks came from and nutritional highlights.
4. What inspired you to get involved and develop this program?
Heather: The kids were having too many treats at school for class parties, birthdays, and celebrations. All that was served was cookies, cupcakes, Cheetos and juice boxes. It seemed like there was a better way for kids to celebrate and eat healthier without taking all the fun out of it. Our goal is to show the kids that eating healthy can be just as yummy!
Corie: Everyone in our committee is passionate about fueling our children with real food. We want children to experience the results of making positive food choices and having an active lifestyle. Our committee members all have personal stories and experiences that have led to their involvement. One has seen the significant results from cutting gluten and sugar from her children’s diet. After seeing the effects of processed foods on our collective health, I hope to offer children the insight that real food is better—better tasting and better for you.
5. What do you tell parents and others who want to get involved in improving school lunch? Any words of advice?
Heather: Start small—it will grow! See if there is a core group of parents at the school who support your ideas. Go to the school administrators, PTO, or any other resource to see how you can make small changes happen.
6. How do you incorporate local food into your own day-to-day life?
Corie: My family strives to be local in a variety of ways. We support local growers such as the Chiles Family by making trips to buy strawberries, apples, peaches, and pumpkins. My husband hunts and offers some of the freshest, safest meat to our girls including dove, venison, and duck. We have a had a garden for the last several years that we hope to expand in seasons to come. We have chickens on our farm that supply us with many of our eggs. I try to support local farmers by shopping in stores that offer locally grown options. As a farming family ourselves, we teach our children the relevance of weather, the rewards of hard work, and the realization that the job is never done. We hope all of this helps our children see that growing, buying and eating our food can be an experience, from when it is planted to its harvest and finally to our table.
7. Anything I’ve missed about BEE Healthy?
Heather: In addition to healthy snacks, we put on two BEE Healthy Family Days during the school year. We recently finished up a Family Fun Run where participants received a raffle ticket for each lap they did around a track. We got local businesses to give us small prizes for the raffle. We also had free apples and water as well as a healthy bake sale with items such as Power Balls, Fudgy Vegan Beet Cupcakes, Banana Muffins, Gluten Free Pumpkin Muffins, and Roasted Pumpkin Seeds. Everyone loved the treats and couldn’t believe they were healthy too! We plan on having a Healthy Family Fun Day in the gym in the Winter to prove that exercise can be a fun family activity as well.
image credit: Brownsville ES