Online toolkit offers resources to improve school nutrition

Head of UCLA's Healthy Campus Initiative leads the project

More than 30 million children now get at least one meal a day from school, making the nation’s schools a vital partner in efforts to combat rising rates of obesity, diabetes and prediabetes among U.S. children.

With that in mind, the University of California’s Global Food Initiative (GFI) has launched a free online toolkit that seeks to help schools teach healthy eating habits and provide nutritious, sustainable food to students.

The Good Food for Local Schools website features resources from UC and other sources that reflect innovative thinking and practices related to healthy and sustainable pre-K-12 school food options. It is aimed at anyone who works in or with schools on childhood nutrition issues.

“What you eat not only impacts health, it also is strongly linked to academic achievement,” said Dr. Wendy Slusser, associate vice provost for UCLA’s Healthy Campus Initiative, who led the GFI project. “This toolkit offers resources to help organizations provide students with equitable access to healthy food, so they can eat better and maximize their opportunities for academic success.”

Schools have become more important than ever in determining how and what American children eat. More than 30 million children take part in the National School Lunch Program, and school meals provide almost half of daily calories for kids enrolled in breakfast and lunch programs, Slusser said.

The toolkit taps into UC’s expertise in working throughout the state to improve nutrition in schools and communities. For example, UC CalFresh provides nutrition education to nearly 120,000 Californians a year, and teachers and schools work with UC CalFresh educators to link classroom curricula to the garden, cafeteria and playground.

The toolkit was developed by GFI UC members who work with school districts around the state promoting healthy and sustainable foods for children attending pre-K-12 schools. They collaborated closely with the Center for Ecoliteracy in Berkeley, as well as representatives from school districts such as Los Angeles Unified and experts from community nonprofits working to improve school food.

“When UC is involved, there’s a whole body of research behind the work,” said Good Food contributor Brad Rumble, principal of Esperanza Elementary School in Los Angeles. “The website is a great place for ideas about healthy food.”

The website contains practical, online resources related to curriculum, operations, policy, research and service, including topics like nutrition education, how to set up a school salad bar, getting started with schoolyard gardens, and more.

The range of resources includes:

The GFI team recommended exemplary curricula, degree and certificate programs, on-campus programs, student-led projects, websites, publications, manuals and how-to guides, policies, organizations, community projects, and other resources. Toolkit selections were based on whether the resource is practical and useful to UC’s work to support healthy, sustainable foods for pre-K-12 schools; is free and easily accessible to the public online; and addresses at least one of GFI’s focus areas.

Launched in 2014 by UC President Janet Napolitano, together with the 10 chancellors, the UC Global Food Initiative addresses the critical issue of how to sustainably and nutritiously feed a world population expected to reach 8 billion by 2025. 

For more information about Good Food for Local Schools, visit

This story is posted on a UC news website.

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