Parent Engagement – A Key Ingredient for Successful School Meal Programs

What is Parent Engagement?

girl entering lunchroom

Parent engagement is defined as parents and school staff working together to support and improve the health, learning, and development of their children. It is a shared responsibility with schools and the community to engage parents and create commitment for their active support of their children’s learning and development. The goal is to impact the children’s academic and health behaviors in a positive and lasting way. Parent engagement can promote positive health behaviors among students and can include a wide variety of activities such as:

  • Mutual support shared among parents
  • Advocacy by parents on behalf of their families
  • Decision-making and advisory roles in agencies such as State Departments of Education, American Heart Association
  • Leadership in the community such as PTA/PTO’s

Why is it important to maintain, build and support parent engagement?

  • Parent engagement strategies offer parents opportunities to develop new capacities, skills, and knowledge that they can use again and again to help to strengthen both their families and communities.
  • Parent engagement promotes and support healthy behaviors in their families
  • It is important to maintain the commitments and momentum of parents who have invested the time to organize themselves and make a positive difference. Engaged and empowered parents can work together to continue implementing strategies that strengthen families long after an initiative has ended. Parents feel “needed” when they participate in decisions that affect their child’s health and experiences

How is this achieved?

Schools can make a positive connection with parents by providing a variety of activities and frequent opportunities that will build positive relationships and fully engage parents in healthy school meal initiatives. By working together with parents to address the issues and opportunities schools can create an engaged community which leads to continuity and sustainability.


  • Create a Mission Statement that reflects the importance of parent engagement. This statement should be health and wellness centered
  • Start a program that actively involves parents such as health fairs, farmers’ markets, health newsletters, cooking demonstrations, walking/running clubs or nutrition workshops.
  • Nutrition education integrated into curriculum can include homework assignments centered on parent input such as exploration of cultural foods.
  • Strengthen your Wellness Policy by involving parents. Have a dedicated multidisciplinary committee of staff, parents and representatives from the community that address needs, interests and activities around the school’s health initiatives.


Carol Chong, MA;RD;LD/N, Alliance for a Healthier Generation


Dell, Susan (2012). A Year of Being Well: Messages from Families on Living Healthier Lives. Michael & Susan Dell Foundation.