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.”

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TAKE ACTION: Healthy, Local & Organic School Food

Healthy, Local & Organic School Food Now

School food: It’s never had a reputation for being good, but these days, it’s downright unhealthy. Obesity and a host of diet-related diseases are linked to the school lunch menu, which is loaded with over-processed starches, fats, genetically modified ingredients, and meats laced with hormones, antibiotics and pesticides. Squeezed into buying on the cheap, school districts buy milk that has been produced with the use of genetically-modified bovine growth hormone and beef that gets recalled for the E. coli contamination that is inevitable in factory farm operations where corn-fed cattle wade in their own waste all the way to the slaughterhouse. Very few vitamin-rich fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the lunch menu, even though it’s universally understood this is the key to improving childhood and long-term health.

The 2009 Reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act is an opportunity to change what kids eat at school and raise a generation of kids who understand good nutrition and value locally produced, fresh, organic food.

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