National School Lunch Week encourages food for kids

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools to offer more fresh veggies and better nutrition to our kids

In September, the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” went into effect. It requires schools to serve more fruits, vegetables and whole grains and more sources of protein as part of the school lunch program. It also encourages the creation of school gardens, farm-to-school programs, nutrition education and other food-related educational programs.

“It’s a fabulous improvement in terms of nutrition,” says Kathleen Rogers, President of Earth Day Network.
The National School Lunch Week program has become a campaign to have healthy, sustainable food served to kindergarten through 12th grade schoolkids. Traditionally, heavily processed food loaded with pesticides and preservatives but severely lacking in nutrition has been the norm in our nation’s school lunch programs. The majority of it traveled thousands of miles from farm to fork and fresh, local farm produce has rarely been available to kids at school.
The impact of this has been severe. A 3-year study released in 2010 by the University of Michigan Health System revealed that “middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits and have high levels of “bad” cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home.”
It’s tragic for our country, Rogers says.
“Obesity has become a national security issue,” said Rogers, “We can’t find kids who’d otherwise go into the military because they’re not fit for service!”
Since beginning in 1970, Earth Day has been about human health and environmental education.
Through its Green Schools Leadership Center, Earth Day Network created a five part program devoted to a broad view of environmental education. It focuses on the greening of facilities, curriculum, recreation, transportation and food.
Through the U.S. Department of Education, the Network was instrumental in helping establish the Green Ribbon School program. These green schools focus on all aspects of education, including food-related issues such as what the kids are eating, where the food’s coming from and how they’re afforded opportunities for recreation.
There’s enormous opportunity to improve the learning experience, to introduce them to everything that will be a part of our lives in the 21st century, said Rogers.
The benefits of a green school are huge, Rogers said. “(The kids will) be healthy, better fed and there will be less violence.”

School gardens such as this are an integral part of engaging kids in what healthy eating is all about

In addition to the obesity and the health issues, we feel that kids will learn better and understand Nature better, she said.“What they’re eating is not just something they put in their mouth,” says Rogers, “but a real learning experience.” They go engaged in school lunch from a teaching and a health perspective.

An integral part of this are school gardens.
More school districts around the country are establishing demonstration or edible gardens. In Rogers’ Montgomery County, Maryland, the school district supervisor has required every school have a school garden within a certain timeframe. New York’s Mayor Bloomberg recently announced that Whole Foods will be putting salad bars in New York City public schools, incorporating as much local products as much as possible.
This past spring Redding, California’s Sequoia Middle School began its own school garden.
Spearheaded by Linda Milhous and the vision of a group of teachers on campus who love gardening, the school received lumber for their planter boxes donated by Sierra Pacific, as well as funds and some donations for soil.
“Once the fire was started, it was hard to contain it,” said Renee Thomas, am eighth grade PE teacher who also teaches the 6th grade “A Better Me” nutrition class.
With organic seeds donated by Milhous’s daughter (a former Sequoia student who runs an organic farm in Manton), the trial and error of gardening began.There was an urgency to “get it in the ground,” said Thomas. “Some of it wasn’t thought out well,” she said. “(But) it was the perfect learning experience to take to the kids.”
During the summer, the surrounding community helped keep the garden going, happily harvesting its bounty. In the fall, when the kids returned, they harvested fresh grown produce including large amounts of squash and tomatoes, which they brought to the cafeteria to be used in school lunches.

Sequoia Middle School’s garden in all its glory

“The kids got to see from seeds to harvest to lunch,” said Thomas.
Thomas said they’re currently working on a fall garden. With lettuce, kale and bok choy already planted, plans include having whole beds of broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Thomas wants children and parents to have words like “local”, “sustainable” and “environmentally aware” be part of their vocabulary.
“Parents need to understand how much of their kids’ future health they hold in their hands,” said Rogers.
People think “you have to be rich to (eat) organic”, said Thomas. But “eating organic or sustainably is less expensive than eating all the processed food in the store,” she said.
If we can provide opportunities for kids to have their lunch program subsidized by healthier food choices and educate them as to why those are good choices, Thomas thinks kids will want to eat that way,
Parents need to get engaged, says Rogers. “We have to be feeding our kids better at home, and parents have to be a real advocate to food service providers,” she said.
That’s the idea behind National School Lunch Week.
To learn more about this  program and related activities (including a cool kids poster competition), go to www.Earthday.org/national-school-lunch-week.
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2 Responses

  1. People who have pushed this barrow (pardon the pun) for many years will cry tears of joy at this news. British TV Chef Jamie Oliver started the ‘healthy school meals’ revolution in UK schools and then took the idea to the USA a couple of years back where he had to fight the district school board to even get into the schools.

    Here in Australia a well known and respected Chef Stephanie Alexander retired from the restaurant business to start the “Kitchen Garden” in schools in 2001. Now around 260 schools are involved in Australia and the Jamie Oliver foundation has adopted the idea for the UK and beyond.

    They have both inspired many people with their work and it’s great to see it being taken up by others and spreading around the world. One habit I would encourage others to copy and expand around the world in the interests of the next generation.

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