This month Healthier Generation is encouraging communities to make the most of their summer. From energizing outdoor games to new healthy recipes, summer should be fun for everyone. I recently teamed up with my friends, Jessy Newman from American Institutes for Research and Clarissa Hayes from Food Research and Action Center, to teach a webinar on how physical activity can foster a sense of belonging at summer meal sites (check out the recording here).
Feeling connected and part of a community is important, especially for young people. Feeling disconnected has major consequences too; did you know that youth who experience rejection or exclusion are more likely to exhibit aggression, defiance, and other behavioral and learning issues? This summer, let’s work together to ensure everyone feels included. Here are 5 simple activities to build community and belonging through healthy eating.
1. Master a Mindful Lunch, Together
Summer is a busy time for educators. This month, pick at least one day a week to try a more mindful lunch. Share National Recreation and Park Association’s new plant-based food guides with a teammate and enjoy breakfast, lunch or a snack break together. If you’re a veteran staff member, invite someone new to join you in the challenge and try a new recipe together. Add even more mindfulness to your day; Flip the Switch and swap mid-day Instagram scrolling for meaningful conversation.
2. Connect Over Healthy Hydration
As the temperature rises, make the water cooler a meeting place that fosters intentional connections. Pair bulletin board resources with fun conversation starters to prompt dialogue. Adapt the Food and Fun energizer “Activity Wheel” with your favorite stretches and icebreaker questions for a DIY cool-down zone.
3. Don’t Leave Conversation to Chance
Think about the last time you went to a lunch where you didn’t know anyone. Help prevent that awkward moment where everyone seems to know someone and you just end up looking at your phone. Create table tents with icebreaker questions; ask everyone to take turns answering the questions while they eat. All you need is card stock, markers and tape. For a youth leadership opportunity, work with students to brainstorm the questions and construct the tents.
4. Host a Community Potluck
Everyone loves a potluck and it is a great opportunity to build cultural competence while sharing favorite family recipes. Check out these resources (including a printable sign-up sheet!) to make your healthy community meal a success. These four simple tips will help you promote your potluck so everyone feels welcome. Looking for a new recipe? Try Red, White & Blue Chicken Salad or Keep Cool Ranch Dip.
5. Encourage Teamwork
One of the questions that came up during our webinar on belonging and summer meals was “how do I engage older youth?” Involving youth in meal planning, food prep and clean up meaningfully engages teens in important issues like food waste reduction while fostering life and workforce skills. For a simple (and healthy) summertime activity perfect for a group, try sparkle pops or DIY trail mix.
Want more great ideas? Check out Healthier Generation’s latest tips and recipes for a healthy summer.
Many thanks to Jessy Newman from American Institutes for Research for her insights on belonging; dive deeper into the research here. For even more research on integrating social, emotional, and academic development into the school and out-of-school environment, visit the National Commission on Social, Emotional and Academic Development.
For breakfast, Daniel was inspired by his teammate Nora and made a #SummerSwap berry smoothie.