When you think about a school cafeteria manager, what comes to mind?
Probably not someone wearing a tiara and matching necklace made of plastic grapes and oversized purple glasses. Or on another day wearing a gold crown, red cape and necklace made of green beans. And you certainly don’t expect to see that cafeteria employee donning a bright red wig with matching Mardi Gras-style beads.
But that’s just the average work ensemble for Beth Bates, the cafeteria manager at John M. Sexton elementary School in St. Petersburg, Fla.
“All my career as a cafeteria manager I’ve loved to dress up, so I decided when we had to try new fruits and vegetables for the kids that I would dress up and engage the students to get them to try the food,” Bates says. “Some of them like it, some of them don’t, but they will at least try it.”
Our friends at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation put together a video highlighting Sexton Elementary’s efforts to build a healthier campus as part of the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Healthy Schools Program. Since joining the program in 2008, Sexton has revamped its lunch menu, convinced kids to try new fruits and vegetables, and integrated physical activity throughout the school day.
Principal Suzette Burns notes in the video that when people like Bates are willing to do something “a little out of the box,” kids are going to pay attention. The students in the video certainly appear engaged, both in trying (and liking!) new food and brainstorming new outfits for Bates, including an apple, tomato, orange, corn and even Brussels sprouts.
Lunchtime isn’t the only time of the school day when kids at Sexton get healthy, Burns notes. There are regular fitness breaks throughout the day, and teachers regularly incorporate lessons about living a healthy lifestyle into the curriculum.
The overall goal, Bates says, is to make eating nutritiously and being active fun.
“I know as a parent, that a lot of parents make eating healthy a chore,” she says. “I don’t want that.”
Click here to watch the full video.