Fun and Healthy School Lunch Programs
It is hard for me to know where to start when it comes to the importance of feeding our children right. Any hope our society has for increasing not only longevity, but learning and the quality of life for the citizens of our country, needs to start with our children. Intrinsically, we want better for each generation, but unless we make some serious changes as soon as possible, this could very well be the first generation whose lifespans are less than that of their parents.
Today, in school cafeterias across our country, highly processed foods and non-nutritious meals are being dished up to our youngsters. Loaded with refined carbohydrates, sugar, salt and partially hydrogenated fats, these foods contribute to chronic conditions related to childhood obesity, such as diabetes and heart disease. To compound the problem of facing a void of healthy options, many children seek vending machines busting with sodas and convenience foods with nothing but empty calories.
Good food and balanced meals are more simple than we often think. By filling half of kids’ plates with fruits and vegetables, a quarter with organic animal protein and another quarter with a whole grain, kids will not only be healthier, but their potential to learn will increase exponentially. Their bodies need high quality fuel to be active, repair, grow, and for their brains to remain alert for learning. Healthy and balanced lunches are not only good for our kids’ bodies and minds, but sustainable farming that produces high quality, organic food are better for our environment as well, which teaches kids stewardship for the earth.
There are several good places to seek inspiration for programs that work well. Alice Waters laid the groundwork by developing the Edible Schoolyard program at the Martin Luther King Middle School in Berkley, California, where kids learn how to garden organically and prepare their food. Similarly, Chef Bobo of the Calhoun School in New York City piloted the Eat Right Now Lunch Program, which fosters opportunities to understand food and nutrition through culturally diverse cooking classes and food science experiments. Under the direction of Chef Bobo’s program, the Calhoun School actually came in under budget. The Two Angry Moms organization encourages families to get more involved in school lunch programs by having lunch with your youngsters to understand the strengths and weaknesses of their school lunch program, to join a coalition to bring awareness to your district and to also market your program to get “buy-in” from the entire community. In all these instances, not only do the students have fun learning about the relationship between health and nutrition, but they become healthier and better students, as well.
There are so many positive outcomes that stem from better lunch programs. Schools can integrate nutrition into their curriculum by teaching kids the delicious ABC’s of good health. School gardens can be cultivated to get kids invested in trying new flavors and the importance of taking care of the land. Cooking classes can be formed that give kids healthy skills that will serve their well-being for a lifetime. Students should have fun learning about how bright and beautiful food should look and taste, opposed to the artificial and processed variety the have sadly become accustomed to. A ripple effect can be created when entire families get on board, committing to bringing these life-skills to their kitchen tables, so everyone at home and in their communities can be happier and healthier.
Tools for becoming informed and taking action: