Smart Choices is a partnership between Dakota County school districts and Dakota County Public Health that focuses on creating a healthier school environment by increasing opportunities for healthy eating and physical activity. Research shows that improving eating and activity habits will help students maintain a healthy weight and reduce the risk of chronic disease, as well as improve academic performance.
Smart Choices is featured in a national publication by the National Association of Chronic Disease Directors (NACDD): Local Health Department and School Partnerships: Working Together to Build Healthier Schools.
Smart Choices toolkit
Check out the Smart Choices Toolkit for ideas and practical resources for improving school nutrition and increasing physical activity before, during and after school.
Introduction to the Smart Choices Toolkit
Assessment: School Health Index
Project Sustainability Tool
The Learning Connection
Wellness policy resources
School Wellness Policy Outreach Toolkit
School Wellness Works!
Healthy eating in Dakota County schools
A la Carte
School Stores and Concessions
Physical activity resources
Physical activity in Dakota County schools
Moving Matters: A school implementation toolkit
Safe Routes to School
Before and After School
Quality Physical Education
Active Schools Minnesota (video)
Smart Choices results
Thirty-two schools across six districts are working with Dakota County Public Health to improve access to healthy foods and increase opportunities for physical activity during the school day. One-third of these schools has a student population with more than 50 percent eligible for free and reduced priced meals (a common way to measure poverty). The Smart Choices partnership has achieved many important policy, systems, and environmental outcomes. A few of the key changes since 2013 include:
- More fresh produce for lunch: 63 of 70 (90 percent) of schools increased the number of fruits they serve to students each day, and four school districts made changes to offer students more produce during lunch.
- Example: 3,300 students in one district get fresh, local produce at least 12 times per month — an increase from only one time per month in 2015.
- Enhanced physical education: 30 schools have included national standards and grade level achievements into their practices. These changes help improve student’s physical activity in physical education class.
- Example: One school district started including a fitness rubric in report cards sent home after staff received a public health-supported training on newly revised national standards
- More students eating breakfast: Six schools saw the number of students eating breakfast increase by 50 percent, on average, after implementing alternative breakfast models and new promotional strategies. A healthy breakfast is important for growth, development, and learning.
- Healthier vending and a la carte options: A total of 18 schools have changed the kind of snacks and drinks in school vending machines and on cafeteria a la carte lines. The changes ensure more nutrient-rich options are available for students by meeting or exceeding the guidelines established by the United States Department of Agriculture.
- Additional leveraged funds: As of December 2016, schools in the county have received $389,464 in grant funds from a variety of sources other than Dakota County. These funds are important — they help schools implement Smart Choices activities and keep projects sustainable.