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.”
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.
“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.
Filed under: Health concerns | Tagged: cholesterol, Earth Day, Earth Day Network, education, green, Green Ribbon School program, Green Schools Leadership Center, healthy, National School Lunch Week, national security, nutrition, obesity, organic, pesticides, school gardens, school lunch program, sustainable, US Department of Education, Whole Foods |