This month, we are excited to spotlight the Arizona Department of Education Health and Nutrition Services (HNS) which administers the Child Nutrition Programs and how those programs support academic, social and emotional development. These are federally assisted meal programs through the United States Department of Agriculture that consist of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) including the Seamless Summer Option (SSO), School Breakfast Program (SBP), Afterschool Care Snack Program (ASCSP), Child and Adult Care Food Program (CACFP) including At-Risk Meals, and the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP).
The HNS Division is committed to enhancing the health and wellbeing of Arizona’s children and adults by providing access to these programs that offer nutritionally balanced, low-cost, or free meals and snacks to children throughout the year. HNS strives to ensure that our customers receive the maximum benefit from our programs, and this includes seeking the connection with school meals and social and emotional learning.
HNS is proud of our accomplishments and the impact of school meals, which include:
- Increasing access to nutritious and safe food for eligible children; providing social interactions and opportunities for building relationships
- Helping to reduce the number of households with children that experience low food security; stability and routines contributes to safety and connection
- Partnering with schools to implement national standards designed to improve the quality of food served and sold in schools; and
- Promoting healthful diets and active lifestyles among those participating in our programs; nourishment helps support emotional regulation, reasoned judgment, and responsible decision-making.
School meals are recognized as a critical source of nourishment for children by contributing to their basic physiological needs. School meals are easily accessed and provide more than an aid for hunger; mealtimes at school provide consistency and stability before, during, and after the school day, which contributes to students’ needs for safety and connection. (nokidhungry.org)
A recent webinar by the No Kid Hungry organization recognized how child nutrition programs connect to social and emotional learning while sharing perspectives from school principals. A few examples are outlined below, along with SEL competencies.
Self-awareness - The ability to understand one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior across contexts.
- Identify how emotions may influence decision-making
- Recognize how a healthy diet influences emotional well-being
Self-Management - The ability to manage one’s emotions, thoughts, and behaviors effectively in different situations and to achieve goals and aspirations.
- How to thoughtfully accept or turn down food
- How to stop eating when satisfied
- How to clean eating spaces and properly dispose of trash and recyclables
- Avoid food (candy) as a reward for good behavior or academic performances to avoid interfering with developing intrinsic motivation
Relationship Skills - The abilities to establish and maintain healthy and supportive relationships and to effectively navigate settings with diverse individuals and groups.
- The time during school meals allows students to socialize with peers
- Time to connect with teachers who eat meals with students
- Sharing mealtime responsibility can promote social responsibility
- A Lunch Buddy Program allows all students the opportunity to socialize and form friendships and relationships
- Breakfast and Lunch in the Classrooms have been a positive spin for relationship skills with COVID changes
Responsible Decision-Making - Abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.
- Use of share tables to help reduce food waste
- Self-serve options (like salad bars) encourage students to take only what they will eat
- Initiating clean-up of common or shared space
- At some schools, the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program is a daily option for students. They receive a fresh fruit or vegetable serving as a snack. Students are responsible for choosing how they want to experience the snack such as they can smell it, feel it, taste it, and try it.
Social Awareness - Abilities to make caring and constructive choices about personal behavior and social interactions across diverse situations.
- Practicing self-advocacy around accepting or declining food
- Reducing stigma by being inclusive of all students
- Recognizing varying appetites requires fewer or more servings
Teachers and Principals are in key positions to help make the connection between SEL and school meals. Here are some things to consider:
- Partner with a food service director to be creative with school meals and assess meal quality
- Advocate along with food service directors, to school boards, to encourage Breakfast After the Bell in schools
- Ask vital staff like bus drivers and custodians to encourage children to eat breakfast, or even invite them to join
- Share information with parents at the beginning of the school year to promote breakfast and meals at school
- Congratulate students by joining them for school meals during the week
- Identify any barriers to positive experiences during breakfast and lunch within classrooms or school facilities
- Refrain from rushing students through meals; seek a balance between acceptance of slow eaters or tardy students and instructional expectations
- Do not use food as a punishment or reward; understand it is a basic need and right
- Meet in Professional Learning Communities and advocate for shared language and practices regarding student SEL and nutrition
- When teachers recognize a need for a family, connect them to external resources for assistance
- Encourage students to experience a food choice or side item; students need multiple encounters to try and accept new foods
The social-emotional aspects of educational experiences are impacted and more likely to thrive if physiological needs, like food, are intact. Therefore, the reliability of school meals plays a critical role in the educational experience of youth. Mealtime at school provides an opportunity to not only nourish children and adults but also develop a sense of community and a place for connection, communication, and empathy as students interact.
Learn more about SEL Competencies
Learn more about Health and Nutrition Services