Professional Development

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Eat Healthy and Get Moving: Incorporate HEPA into Your Program

Jessica Hay, California Afterschool Network program director, recently had the opportunity to discuss the National Afterschool Association (NAA) Healthy Eating and Physical Activity Standards (HEPA) during a Lights on Afterschool webinar, and offer some tips for incorporating them into family and community events such as Lights On Afterschool.

Hay is passionate about these subjects and excited to share what was talked about.

I often hear that the HEPA standards can be overwhelming: "There are so many of them. How could I possibly implement these on my site?" Yes, there are a lot of them. But one thing to remember is that these are really a vital framework—and a way to talk about healthy eating and physical activity components in afterschool programs that move the work forward.

It's important to think about simple ways to incorporate the HEPA standards throughout all aspects of your program, while meeting the high demands and academic rigors. Give yourselves the freedom to be creative and have fun with it. Think about ways to incorporate physical activity into what you're already doing; you have homework time and a science club, so how can physical activity be included with them?

There are a lot of simple, fun ways to include HEPA into many aspects of your program, especially during family and community events. A few ideas to help get those creative juices flowing: Start a walking club where you track steps, turn that into a math lesson with fractions and graphs, and then share those at the next family event. Maybe work with families to make their own family action plans, to increase their healthy eating and get moving together. Keep these ideas and HEPA in the forefront when planning Lights on Afterschool and other events. Engage the community in cooking demos; offer healthy food options and educational materials, like MyPlate. Consider group Zumba or dance routines, yoga and stretching, hula hooping stations and so many more—the possibilities are endless!

Sometimes talking about healthy eating and physical activity with families can be difficult, but there are tools and resources out there to help start conversations. Check out Food and Fun for tips on talking about healthy eating in conversation and through family newsletters. The resource has simple tips for starting the conversation and thinking about how to talk to parents about fruits, vegetables and water. Programs and sites can also create wellness policies using tools like those offered by Alliance for a Healthier Generation. These policies provide a foundation that may be used to show to families the value of healthy eating and physical activity.

Remember to have fun with this work! We can't wait to hear about how you integrate HEPA in amazing family and community events like Lights on Afterschool! Keep up the amazing work out there, and thank you for supporting healthy practices with the youth, families and communities you serve. You truly are changing lives!

Contributed by Jessica Hay, MSW, Program Director, California Afterschool Network.