Rebel Families


Healthy Eating Takes Root At Matoaka

– Subtle suggestions and healthier options have changed the eating culture at Matoaka Elementary. Other WJC schools are following suit.  Matoaka has gained national attention for promoting a healthy lifestyle with recent plugs on Chef Jamie Oliver’s blog, the USDA Department of Agriculture blog and Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” blog.

The key is subtlety. Matoaka’s PTA and administration have partnered to make healthy foods a choice in the cafeteria and at school events without forcing everyone to eat their broccoli. Principal Andy Jacobs does not want proponents to be misconstrued as the “cupcake police.”

“We want to make the healthy choice the easy choice,” said PTA member Michelle Alexander. “Anything we can do here at Matoaka to do that, we are willing to do.”

The effort started in 2010 when Christian Dunn of the PTA set out to change the food being served at events. She also started the school’s Healthy Lifestyles Week every November during the National PTA’s Healthy Lifestyles Month. Last year the PTA created a cafeteria task force to add healthy items on the lunch menu, based on a survey to parents. “You have to do it,” said PTA member Tryna Fitzpatrick. “You have to get an idea of what your community is looking for.”  97% of respondents called for expanding the local produce program. More notable was that 60% were willing to financially underwrite fresh produce at school.

This year Matoaka partnered with Kelrae Farm, which delivers twice a month. WJC Child Nutrition Services covers the base cost, according to Alexander, and the PTA picks up the difference and pays delivery charges. She said Child Nutrition Services is now working to get fresh produce into other WJC schools once a month. They’ve suggested that the schools appoint healthy lifestyles coordinators to follow Matoaka’s lead.

Besides more fresh veggies and fruit in the cafeteria, Matoaka is also working to change the school culture by retooling events and banish unhealthy habits. Jacobs said they’ve traded “Donuts with Dads” for a less catchy “Bagels and Fruit with Dads.” Fruit topping has taken the place of sprinkles at the ice cream social. The PTA sent home fliers encouraging parents to attach a non-food gift (or nothing) to valentines in lieu of candy. Golden Apple Awards are also handed out to reward healthy behaviors.

Efforts to make fitness a priority have also eliminated loss of recess as a punishment. Instead, teachers are taking away the choice and assigning a recess activity like running laps. The school’s garden is still too small to feed everyone, but Fitzpatrick said they are working to expand.