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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Lunch Room Updates

School Lunch Updates:

Lunch Lessons by Ann Cooper.  Remember how simple school lunches used to be? Youd have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today its not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch programs in America do not meet the USDAs nutritional guidelines.  Chef Ann Cooper has emerged as one of the nations most influential and most respected advocates for changing how our kids eat. In fact, she is something of a renegade lunch lady, minus the hairnet and scooper of mashed potatoes. Ann has worked to transform cafeterias into culinary classrooms. In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children.  They explain the basics of good childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, home-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The pages are also packed with recommendations on how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and how to support businesses that provide local, organic food.  Yet learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity and poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.

"Lunch Lessons" by Ann Cooper.

How the USDA Helped Bring Processed Food to School Lunch

Most adults don’t have glorious memories of school lunch. It was sloppy Joes, shepherd’s pie, spaghetti with meat sauce, and it was usually on the bland side. But the food wasn’t bad, and it was almost always cooked from scratch by an army of school lunch ladies. Read more at School Lunch Talk.

Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children

Remember how simple school lunches used to be? You’d have something from every major food group, run around the playground for a while, and you looked and felt fine. But today it’s not so simple. Schools are actually feeding the American crisis of childhood obesity and malnutrition. Most cafeterias serve a veritable buffet of processed, fried, and sugary foods, and although many schools have attempted to improve, they are still not measuring up: 78 percent of the school lunch programs in America do not meet the USDA’s nutritional guidelines. Chef Ann Cooper has emerged as one of the nation’s most influential and most respected advocates for changing how our kids eat.

In Lunch Lessons, she and Lisa Holmes spell out how parents and school employees can help instill healthy habits in children. They explain the basics of good childhood nutrition and suggest dozens of tasty, home-tested recipes for breakfast, lunch, and snacks. The pages are also packed with recommendations on how to eliminate potential hazards from the home, bring gardening and composting into daily life, and how to support businesses that provide local, organic food. Yet learning about nutrition and changing the way you run your home will not cure the plague of obesity and poor health for this generation of children. Only parental activism can spark widespread change. With inspirational examples and analysis, Lunch Lessons is more than just a recipe book—it gives readers the tools to transform the way children everywhere interact with food.

American Lunchroom: A Photo Essay

Check out American Lunchroom for a photo essay of what our kids are eating at school: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.  Viewers are invited to send in a photo of what their school lunch looks like too.

Children’s Crusade of 1963 Sparks Cafeteria Food Boycott

Fourth Graders Boycott Cafeteria Food

Fourth grade students at Nuestro Mundo Elementary School in Madison, WI started a group called Boycott School Lunch (BCSL) last fall after conducting some “gross experiments” in the school cafeteria, like measuring how much grease they could squeeze out of a hamburger. They had been learning about Martin Luther King Jr. and the civil rights movement in history class. Their teacher, Joshua Forehand, showed them a movie about the Children’s Crusade that took place in Birmingham, AL in 1963 (lesson plan), and this sparked the students to organize a peaceful protest for healthier cafeteria food.

Click here to read more over at Food First: Institute for Food and Development Policy.

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