Steps to improve the quality of food in your public school system
By Kim Rice
Around age five or six, our children begin spending most of their time at school. From snack time to lunch, to candy breaks and after school snack-shacks, it’s apparent the majority of calories consumed happen on school grounds. This illustrates how important it is we pay attention to what our children on campus. Jamie Oliver reports on his Web site (www.jamiesfoodrevolution.com) that our kids are growing up “overweight and malnourished from a diet of processed foods.” Nine million children in this country are overweight, which has more than tripled since 1980. Mehmet Oz of New York-Presbyterian/Columbia University, reports that thirty to forty percent of children born in the year 2000 will develop diabetes. Research also indicates that 40% of cancer cases can be linked to diet. It’s been predicted by many sources that today’s generation of children will be the first to have a shorter live span than their parents. It’s time for change!
Fortunately, there are many groups that have begun to pave the way for improving the school food environment. Taking advantage of these resources is “key” in beginning the process within your school system. Several of the organizations recommend the following steps:
1) Become familiar with your child’s potential food sources at school. Eat lunch at your child’s school or volunteer in the lunch room. Learn what they are eating and how it’s sourced and prepared. This includes doing an inventory of vending machines for both food/snacks and beverages. If your school is still offering soda in vending machines, at the minimum, advocate replacement of the soda with bottled water and 100% juice offerings.
2) Get to know your school’s “food/nutrition staff” – As Jamie Oliver puts it, “love your lunch ladies.” Introduce yourself and let them know how much you appreciate the role they play in your child’s development. Share your vision with them. Children who are well fed and healthy show higher academic achievement than those who don’t eat healthy. Building allies within the school system is important. The more support you have for the changes you want to implement, the easier it will go. Other important contacts are the School Nurse, the Principal, the Food Service Director, other parents and teachers, especially the Physical Education (PE) teachers.
3) Learn about your school’s food service program – Understand how your school’s service program functions. Who orders food and from where? What are the existing contracts and when do they expire? Is the ordering done from the school itself or on a district level?
4) Create a Wellness Team – pull together a team of advocates to help you accomplish your goals. You should include the president of the PTA, the Food Service Director, the principal, school nurse and as many parents with the same vision and goals as you can gather together. Getting involved in the PTA is a great way to go about this as well involvement in any local mother or parent clubs. Growing Great (www.growinggreat.org) is a California organization that trains teachers and parents to advocate and educate within their own district for healthy eating at school. They offer an online training program that will teach you “talking points” and offers presentations and other materials to use along your journey. Their curriculum currently meets California state standards.
These resources below offer great information and detailed plans on how to take action within your school system and also have many useful links to more information. Jamie Oliver’s site features a “School Cafeteria Audit” you can use while investigating your school’s lunch room.
Other great resources:
Lunch Lessons, Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes; Web site: www.chefann.com
www.chezpanissefoundation.org Offers publications that document 12 years of operating the Edible Schoolyard and three years of school lunch reform in Berkeley, California.
www.school-lunch.org This Web site has a very informative slideshow presentation with case study examples.
www.foodfairyprogram.com This Web site features a really fun presentation on teaching children how to make healthy eating choices using the “Red Light, Yellow Light, and Green Light” food theory.