6 Ways to Engage Parents to Grow Healthy Families

Parents and FoodCorps service members have to work together; it can take up to a dozen times of trying a new food for a child to come around and develop a taste for it. And healthy habits built at school must make their way home to have the biggest impact. Students bring their newfound interest in healthy foods home with them, but it’s also important for service members to engage the parents in their school communities to make sure that the impact of our programming has the furthest possible reach.

They use various strategies to maximize parent engagement: inviting parents into the garden and classroom; sending home recipes and newsletters; and creating as many points of contact as possible. So far the results have been impressive.

Students report back that they have cooked class recipes at home. Parents have reported that their kids are asking for new vegetables at the grocery store and at the dinner table.

1. Cooking with Families


FoodCorps service members plan activities after school that can involve the whole family, so that parents and guardians understand what their children are learning. At family cooking nights and “Family Fun Nights,” service members teach entire families new, fun healthy recipes. They use these evenings to build skills and enthusiasm and to recruit parents for further engagement.

“We discussed the importance of cooking and eating as a family and ways to involve kids in the cooking process. Families made their own massaged kale salad and fruit kebabs, and we made a pot of rainbow rice as a group. Everyone loved the recipes, and one mother told me, ‘I’m going to have to make this at home! She never eats vegetables and she’s coming up for seconds.’” — Marissa Finn, Guilford County, NC

2. School-Sponsored Events

test2Service members make their presence known to parents at school-wide events like open houses and parent teacher conferences. School administrators who know how engaging food can be also ask their service members to set up booths at other school events. These are opportunities for our members to meet new families and introduce them to our mission of connecting kids to healthy food.

Oelwein, Iowa Service Member Molly Schintler was able to set up a table at the parent teacher conferences at a local school to advertise the Pick A Better Snack curriculum that she is implementing. With jicama as the featured harvest of the month, she brought jicama sticks and jicama salsa with her. “One kid who I taste tested jicama with saw me and shouted, “JICAMA! I LOVE JICAMA!!!” said Molly. “She proceeded to tell her mother all about it and about how they needed to go to the store to buy some for a snack.”

3. Organizing Events

Our service members don’t just show up to existing school events: they create their own to welcome parents to come see the garden and find out what their children are learning through FoodCorps programming. Sometimes these are fairs including stations manned by other community groups too, and sometimes they are harvest meals where parents can experience the potential of their children’s cooking skills firsthand.

“Our Family Wellness Fair was a success. We had 70+ Individuals participate in our jam-packed day of Zumba, garden bed-building, and fall cooking. Participants were able to groove to the music and sweat it out during our Zumba session. Attendees showed off their carpentry skills and helped built 6 beds in the garden, doubling our growing capacity. And last but not least, community members worked together to make a delectable Potato Leek Soup.”  — Amina Bahloul, Bronx, NY

4. Sharing Recipes

recipeAfter tantalizing taste tests and hands-on cooking lessons, service members often send students home with recipe cards so they can repeat the activity at home with their families. Lucky kids might even get to go home with school garden produce. When service members don’t give out the recipe, parents sometimes come hunting for them.

“As I signed out of my school’s front office, I found a lady running after me, shouting ‘Miss! Miss! Wait up!’ She introduced herself as the mother of my 4th grade student Colby, saying how much he had loved the kale hummus we taste tested a few weeks ago in the cafeteria. Apparently, he had raved so much that they had gone together to the grocery store and purchased all the ingredients — only to find that he had forgotten to ask about the actual amounts!” — Shana Wallace, Lewiston, ME

5. Gardening Together

AZ-Jenn-Diggs2015-10-08_Rosalva-Fuente-Community-Organizer-on-the-Farm-to-Child-Team-teaching-parents-how-to-plant-seeds-at-our-Mission-View-Elementary-Beautification-Day-604x270School gardens are not one-person projects. In order to truly thrive, the gardens need support from volunteers. It’s especially exciting to have parents volunteer because it gives the garden staying power—it will live on even after the school has graduated out of direct FoodCorps service. It’s a win-win: the garden gets extra hands and parents get to go home with fresh produce to eat at home!

6. Market Stands

foodcorps_10007_27055_2016_May_26_IMG_3979-e1467221236232-768x499Service members increase community access to fresh foods—and sometimes financially sustain their garden projects—by selling garden produce to community members at school dismissal.

“Service members increase community access to fresh foods—and sometimes financially sustain their garden projects—by selling garden produce to community members at school dismissal.” — Jen Urban, former service member, Oahu, HI