Lessons from the School Food Tour

Lessons From The School Food Tour

Thu 08 Nov 2012

Story by Sara Salo

After months of bicycling and successful outreach to thousands of students, the School Food Tour has concluded its inaugural journey. In early summer I completed my goal of pedaling 5,000 miles around America in support of healthy school meals. It was a fantastic experience that allowed me a glimpse into schools and cafeterias across the country.

16 States, 36 Schools and 6,500 Students

The School Food Tour was dedicated to empowering students, schools and communities to promote healthy eating habits. During each stop along the ride I would talk with students about the importance of wholesome food choices, visit school facilities and meet with nutrition services to discuss school lunch issues. The Tour visited 16 states, 36 schools and directly interacted with over 6,500 students.

The lessons that I learned on the road were countless, but there are few universal take-aways that I would like to share with you. These ideas can apply to your personal life, your student, your school or your community.

• Success starts with YOU

The first step to achieving positive change is action. And luckily, your action does not have to be dramatic. Whether you are interested in improving your eating habits or advocating for healthier meals in a school, remember that reaching small goals will sum up to a major impact.

This concept of incremental changes adding up to substantial improvement was a point that I stressed in every classroom presentation. Each student identified one small goal and then created an action plan to achieve results. This strategy gave everyone a tangible task to pursue once the Tour moved on to its next destination. Long days of riding required this same approach, and even on days when my legs rebelled against the 100+ lbs of gear, I undertook the challenge one mile at a time.

Bottom line: take action, start small, plan big.

• There are common barriers to improving school food

Again and again, food service staff reiterated the barriers they face to improving school food: Lack of proper equipment, the need for more trained staff, the desire for new recipes and a tight budget. The school food staff that I met around the country voiced an almost universal desire for increased opportunities to collaborate with their colleagues. They also asked for more support from regulatory agencies in light of the new nutrition guidelines.

A powerful source for this support is one’s own community – Let’s Move Chefs to Schools, Food Corps, community gardens and similar organizations are great places to start. Locations where I observed a focus on outreach and networking were ahead of the trend in building a healthy school food system.

• Start pedaling

There is a vast need for more programs such as the School Food Tour. A fresh face and a unique approach made this project very effective at reframing the conversation about student health in both communities and schools. SFT class visits motivated students to change their attitudes and behaviors through education and engaging activities.

Many inquiries have come in from folks wondering if they can be a part of the SFT. These people are eager to start spreading the pedal-powered food revolution message. Their enthusiasm has made me confident that there will be a second iteration of the Tour that encompasses more riders, locations and schools. If you have a unique idea for outreach – go for it!

• There is power in inspiration

One question I often receive is “How do you know if your program is effective?” In answer, I usually reference one of the many thank-you cards that the SFT has received. “I told my parents about what you are doing. They have already changed our meals and the way they prepare it.”

These notes of gratitude and stories of change confirm the importance of programs such as the School Food Tour. One girl riding 5,000 miles won’t change the world. But thousands of individuals working towards goals that are relevant to their communities’ needs WILL make a positive impact. Choose a project that inspires, good luck and pedal on!

About the author: Sara Salo is the creator of The School Food Tour and an ardent healthy kids advocate based in Houghton, Michigan. During her 6,000-mile bicycle tour across America she is engaging a diverse group of communities and students in conversations about healthy eating and encouraging advocacy for change.


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