The bell rings for lunch on an average Friday at a Tennessee middle school, and students file into the cafeteria.
But the students don’t get in line for their meal. Instead, each holds up a white piece of paper that simply reads, “NO.”
That scene repeats itself at schools across the country, as middle school students join forces with an underground group to protest unhealthy school food and expose the sinister forces behind the meals.
And so begins “No: Book One of the 8th Day Series,” a novel written by nutritionist Jane Pentz and her colleague Douglas Dwyer. Targeted to tweens, the mystery is designed to get young people thinking about the food they eat and inspire them to take action to improve it.
“They make changes in the food lunch program,” Pentz says of her characters. “One of the things we wanted the kids to learn is they are responsible for their own health.”
Along with being a published author, Pentz is the founder of the American Academy of Sports Dietitians and Nutritionists (AASDN), a nonprofit group working to reduce childhood obesity rates. Pentz tells the Inside Track that after a “really impressive” response to her novel, AASDN became inspired to launch a new program to educate real-life students about the food they consume.
The National School Lunch Awareness Initiative targets elementary school age kids ages 9 to 12, asking them to rate their lunch over the course of 10 days using a special star system (five stars being the best choices, zero stars for foods they should avoid).
To help the students, AASDN will provide participants with a placemat explaining the food choices. For example, fresh vegetables or a salad is worth five points, while frozen veggies are worth four and ketchup or French fries are worth zero. At the end of the program, students will “Shoot for 20 Stars” by eating the healthiest food choices possible.
“It’s very easy to implement, very easy to use,” Pentz says. “We’re very excited about the idea.”
AASDN hopes to launch the initiative in October. The organization is currently seeking volunteers to serve as coordinators in their community, with the goal of getting 1,000 students to participate in each state. There is no cost to take part in the initiative, although groups who manage to sign up more than 1,000 students will be asked to pay 20 cents per additional placemat.
Pentz says she’s working with her local school district to implement the initiative on campus, but she’s also aiming to get after-school programs on board as well. The initiative is set up to be flexible; even individual families can take part in their own time.
“We’re kind of staying open to how people feel they can implement it,” she says.
Click here for more information on the initiative or to sign up to be a volunteer.
Don't miss the rest of the Inside Track: Click here to learn about how teens are becoming advocates for farm to school programs. Also check out a guest article about a PreventObesity.net Leader who is educating families about eating healthy, and be sure to get the info for an upcoming webinar looking at advocacy efforts following the Weight of the Nation documentary.