Green Mama: Healthy School Lunches Begin at Home

Hilltown Families Contributing Writer

Back-to-School Means Back to Healthy Eating for this Family

It’s just about that time again. Time for alarm clocks and protests to sleep “just one more minute.” Time for grumbles over homework and carpools to sport’s practices. Time for frazzled parents and days where the schedule dictates your life. (Cue scream.)

Yes folks, the vacation’s over. It’s back-to-school time!

Take a deep breathe and you can almost smell the nervousness, anticipation and excitement in the air. And that’s just what some parents are exuding into the environment. What about the kids?

School is a touchy subject. Everybody has an opinion — about teachers, MCAS, the abundance of homework, the lack of homework, the importance of recess, the elimination of recess and most recently, the state of school lunchrooms.

There has been a strong movement in the United States, since Mrs. Obama started her Let’s Move campaign to address the growing epidemic of childhood obesity, to revamp school lunch programs. In April I spoke to Josh Viertel, the president of Slow Food USA a grassroots organization that, according to its website, “envisions a world in which all people can eat food that is good for them, good for the people who grow it and good for the planet.” Viertel spoke to me about the organizations Time for Lunch campaign which advocates for changes in the Child Nutrition Act, the piece of legislation that is responsible for funding and establishing guidelines for the National School Lunch Program.

“School lunch administrators, nutrition directors, lunch ladies … they want to feed kids food that makes them healthy and that tastes good but they really have their hands tied because of federal funding,” Viertel said. “Schools get on average less than a dollar a day per lunch to spend on ingredients, which makes it really impossible to serve food that’s good for kids.”

Viertel and his organization members are not the only ones who headed to Washington this year to address this issue.

Rachael Ray made a trip to the Capitol in May to plead her case. In an interview with Nightline’s Cythia McFadden posted on Ray’s Yum-o.org website she commented on the importance of this bill for kid’s education: “It’s an opportunity to really level the playing field, no matter what socioeconomic background a kid comes from,” Rachael said. “When they are in school they (can) have access — all of them — to good nutrition if we the adults provide it for them.”

I am a firm believer in revamping the school lunch programs in our schools. Afterall, I am guilty of throwing the organic eating out the window during the school day and allowing my children to purchase the all-too-often unhealthy school lunches. But I also don’t want to put too much emphasis on the school’s responsibility in all this. Yes, they are responsible for feeding our children the healthiest, most nutritious food they can with the funding they have available to them, but so are we parents.

“Nutrition and healthy nutrition has everything to do with the success or the struggle that (your child) will have,” said Izzy Lenihan, a Pittsfield-based life, career and wellness coach and mother of two, in recent interview.

In the interview Lenihan discussed the importance of sending your child off to school with a good breakfast in their belly because if you don’t, she said, “there’s an indication that you’re already starting him (or her) off for failure.”

During this summer “vacation” I have slacked off on my commitment to eating organically and in essence, I have slacked off in my responsibility as a parent to provide my children with the best that I can. The cabinets have been filled with sugary cereal, ironically for the summer, the fruit and vegetable selections at our house have been limited, and there has been a lot of unhealthy snacking going on around here.

As Lenihan also said in that same interview, I am my child’s “best advocate.” If I’m not advocating for better eating habits in my own home then how can we expect the school or even government to do a better job than these children’s own parents are.

Granted not everyone is in the same position as we are, so I understand that for some people school breakfasts and lunches are essential. And life would definitely be easier around here if we could send our children off to school knowing that lunch was being taken care of and it was HEALTHY!

But until then, I am working very hard to provide my kids with the start (and end) to their day they need to be successful learners.

Organic cereals are back in the pantry and the food from our garden is starting to ripen and make it into the kitchen and on to our dinner plates. Soon we will be getting our organic fruit and vegetable basket from Berkshire Organics in Dalton and I’ve even found some inexpensive growth hormone- and antibiotic-free chicken from, of all places, Stop & Shop, and it was on sale for $1.49 a pound.

So once again, I have reminded myself, baby steps are the way to go … and I’m committed to this for my family and my children’s futures.

I think, despite all the chaos that accompanies their beginning school again, they are definitely worth my efforts!


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Kelly Bevan McIlquham

Kelly is a psychotherapist-turned-writer who resides in Hinsdale, MA with her husband, three children, two black labs, a cat, a turtle, and a few goldfish. She is the Features Editor for The Advocate in the Berkshires where she especially enjoys writing family- and education-related articles and her monthly “Parent to Parent” column. Kelly also dabbles in writing for children and has had her work published by Wee Ones online family magazine. Her new blog “Green Mama” chronicles her journey as a “green” parent in every sense of the word — from her parenting naiveté to living greener. When not writing, her favorite pastime is cheering on her children at various football, soccer, basketball and baseball games. kwm229@msn.com

1 Comment

  1. Mindy Jenkins said,

    August 25, 2010 at 9:17 am

    Great article.


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