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Turkey Bingo Spy Report

My sweet neighbor children, Danika (age 8) and Carter (age 6) invited me to Turkey Bingo at their elementary school last night. This is the same school where my sons went to school and I have great memories of this place, so of course, I said “yes!” I also wanted to see what was being served for snacks, since 11 years I was engaged in some serious nutrition policy-making through my previous job in public health and I was curious if the policies were still in place.

Yes, it was in 2003 that the awesome principal, Dr. Beth Randklev, who is still manning the ship, allowed my colleague Melanie and me to pilot a program that became school policy less than a year later.  It was a Fruit and Vegetable Snack Policy that limits children to bringing only fruits and vegetables to school for snacks.  We also worked with the PTO to stop serving pop and candy at the school fundraisers, and serve only milk and bottled water instead.  They even agreed to serve mini-bags of carrots and healthier meal options at the concessions.

Fast forward to now for the update…. The Fruit and Veggie Snack policy is still in place with one improvement – USDA is providing the produce, 3 days a week so the children only have to provide it twice a week. I talked to the principal and she said that it has been going strong with no complaints ever since I left and it is simply “the norm.” She said she gets a lot of positive feedback on it when she introduces it at Kindergarten Roundup.

The PTO fundraiser food, is a different story, since that was never made “policy.” The PTO groups make the decisions on what is served, despite healthy recommendations from the principal. So at Turkey Bingo, I saw pop, pop, and more pop. I was disappointed, but I know that 2 myths about pop tend to prevail: “pop is required to raise money” and “pop is a special treat for kids.” They are myths because I assure you that any beverage will sell when people are thirsty, and pop is not a “special treat” when many children drink it every day.

I busted the first myth 11 years ago when at one school fundraiser I proposed that in the best interest of children’s health, we replace the pop with Grab N’Go Milk (white, chocolate or strawberry) and bottled water. The PTO moms were not impressed by me and predicted we would lose “tons of money” not selling pop, but the principal backed me to give it a try. I was so confident it would work, I agreed to personally buy any milk left over if my idea flopped. When Turkey Bingo night arrived, the only thing that went wrong was that all the milk had sold out by intermission and a lot of kids were upset! So for several years, the legacy of Grab N’ Go Milk and bottled water prevailed as beverages for school events at this school.

My guidelines for this school’s policies were published in the manual, Making It Happen! Nutrition Success Stories for Children, a joint project between the Centers for Disease Control and USDA Team Nutrition. It also outlines other changes our Grand Forks School District made when it adopted our Team Nutrition’s Model Nutrition Policy that tackled pop in the schools, vending machines, club fundraisers, candy rewards, and ala carte at lunch, etc. This entire manual is an excellent, free resource for anyone interested in making changes in their communities.

Eleven years later, I still get calls related to these policies, and am happy to consult with school groups on how to get them established (payment is not my concern, the health of children is!)    Better yet, suggest your legislators dig up this manual and pass a bill to put these policies in the books.  Sometimes the simplest ideas make the biggest impact.

Last but not least, and Carter and Danika would want me to mention this: despite heavy competition at Turkey Bingo (the gymnasium and lunchrooms were packed!) guess who won one of the highly competitive Bingo games?

Yes, yours truly, this policymaker. I won a $20 gift certificate to the local grocery store! Yes, money for Danika and Carter’s favorite school snacks: bananas and clementines!

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