Tarkington Kids Clean Their Plates!

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Encouraging kids to eat their vegetables is a timeless challenge, but Urban Initiatives’ partnership at Tarkington School of Excellence has discovered a new strategy to incentivize students to eat the variety of food served at lunch.

Coach Noah spends every Tuesday at Tarkington, pioneering health-related projects to reach all 1000 students in the school and help Tarkington complete the HealthierUS Schools Challenge. This week, he organized a contest with the 2nd and 3rd grades to see which class could have the smallest amount of wasted food after lunch. This is simultaneously an exercise in nutrition education as well as responsibility (through reducing waste).

Over the past few years in Chicago, grassroots campaigns have worked hard to implement policy changes that get more diverse and nutritious foods on students’ plates in the cafeteria. This is an amazing step toward improving kids’ health and academic success. However, Urban Initiatives folks spend time in schools during the day and know that a lot of this food ends up in the trash. A study in Chicago showed that one school regularly wasted over 300 lbs of food every day. In an effort to raise awareness about healthy eating and the importance of reducing waste, Coach Noah was eager to implement this cafeteria challenge! One added benefit is that if kids eat more of their lunch food, they will be less likely to be hungry after school and fill up with junk food. 

The Tarkington team consisted of Coach Noah, the lunchroom manager Ms. Warner, and parent volunteer Brenda Villasenor. Before lunch, Noah and Coach Villasenor visited each participating classroom to discuss the importance of eating a variety of healthy foods, using CLOCC’s 5-4-3-2-1-Go! message, which includes getting “5 servings of fruits and vegetables” and “3 servings of low-fat dairy,” both of which are available at lunch! They also talked about why it is important to reduce food waste because it conserves resources and demonstrates responsible citizenship. The winning classroom would walk away with a cool blue Urban Initiatives wristband with the keyword: HEALTHY.

Students embraced this challenge enthusiastically, working together and cheering each other on to leave nothing behind. They encouraged each other and proudly displayed their empty trays! After lunch, Coach Visallenor and the cafeteria staff compared leftovers to determine that Ms. Miller’s 3rd grade class was the winner! Ms. Warner was incredibly excited with the way the kids ate their lunch and hopes to host more of these contests and reach the entire student body.

Urban Initiatives is so proud to be part of the city-wide effort to get all kids healthy by eating good food!

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