Yes, American school lunches need improvement. There are amazing souls out there pushing for progress. Changes can come, in fact we must make feeding our children correctly a high priority, both at the school menu level and at home. The goals seem insurmountable…But should we wait until complete breakdown before changes happen? Should we continue to watch our children having lifestyle related health issues such as Type 2 diabetes and not do something? The school lunch program needs improvement. We saw this here on this website during the last couple months when we did a 30 day school lunch meal health comparison between France and America. French school meals won overall but there were also some good school lunch programs in America too. Check out your school and see what your kids are eating. If you are not satisfied, make yourself heard. Even small changes are better than none. There are school lunch “celebrities” out there that can help you ask your school questions and make suggestions about making improvement. You can get involved at a national level by contacting your government officials promoting the right laws. Yes, it is challenging to provide healthy, varied, delicious (to the kids too!), fresh meals for school lunch, especially given the budget and time constraints, but it is NOT IMPOSSIBLE! During one of my last articles, I discussed two celebrities that are helping to make changes to the school lunch program…Jamie Oliver and Chef Ann Cooper. Here are some of their suggestions and ideas. Visit their websites. My two cents is there too…from my own experience here in France as a mom and dietitian.
Too bad that I cannot watch Jamie Oliver’s television show “The Food Revolution” here in France, but I do know that his shows are having an impact on the school lunch programs. Going on his website there were so many great ideas, petitions for parents to sign, recipes….Jamie also has a list of important components for each school to follow. He calls it “Jamie’s School Food Charter” . Check it out! Here are some of my personal favorites from the list and the areas that may be the easiest to implement in your local school.
Don’t Sell Junk Food a simple suggestion, but for many school lunch budgets possibly the hardest to give away. Selling junk food (especially in the vending machines) is a big money-maker for schools. These foods if available will take the place of healthy choices and give a wrong message on healthy eating. Honor the Meal Give kids enough time to eat, sitting down at the table, encourage children to taste every part of the meal, not just their favorites. Don’t Supersize Correct portion sizes for age, don’t overdo portions especially on favorites such as french fries. Stay Hydrated Water in place of sugared drinks. Communicate involvement, communication and encouragement on all levels with ALL those involved in the school lunch program. Celebrate Food make food fun and relaxed by teaching kids how to cook and the importance of eating well.
Chef Ann gives each parent and citizen a challenge: Eat lunch in your local school and be objective…is this food that your kids are eating actually GOOD? Does it taste good and is it healthy? Ask your school district about their Wellness policy- each public school should have one. Volunteer your time in the school cafeteria, Communicate between all those involved in the lunch program, and finally why not? Plant a garden or suggest the idea of a garden at your school.
my two cents… from the French perspective
The celebrities say it and do it much better than me. The thoughts that come to mind living here where food, taste, freshness is such a priority and is even “pushed” on you whether you like it or not: Kids are our future we need to take care of them. Starting young with offering healthy varied food choices could be a priority at school and home. Pushing for improvement shouldn’t be looked at as negative, just progress and change with the time. Finally, food should be considered Sacred for the table, for the body…it is the fuel that keeps us going, the fuel that could be destroying us also overtime. Don’t you agree? You know the image that French portray…very “exigent” (demanding), always complaining about something. I’m not the first one to say this, ask any French person-they will agree. However, with being demanding comes change. Here is an example: At my oldest child’s middle school some of the parents were complaining about the school lunches. Didn’t realize they weren’t good…my daughter seems very content with the offerings -lots of choices, fresh fruit for dessert everyday. Why would I investigate this issue? I knew my daughter was eating well. However, the parents weren’t happy because yes, the kids had a lot of choices, too many. Always french fries or pasta as the side dish. Sugary desserts next to the fresh fruit. Too many chicken nuggets and other fried main dishes. The lunch ladies to speed up the line just putting french fries on the kids plates instead of vegetables. I am lucky that my daughter (who is probably the best eater of my 4 kids) usually makes excellent food choices at the cafeteria. She grabs the fresh foods, the healthy choices, not all the kids are like her. There was a meeting between the head of the PTA, some other concerned parents, the chef of the cafeteria, the principal. A nice parent kept me informed of the results: a good compromise: no more double fried days-meaning that when even one of the main dish is fried, the side dishes will not be. Less cold cuts on the menu, and the 2 main food choices clearly labeled so that the kids will know in advance which choice to take, rather than getting in front of the lunch lady and just saying “just put anything on.” Small changes, but satisfaction for everyone-the chef, the parents, the principal. And finally, for the kids-more healthy meals. It took some concerned parents to get together and push for changes, maybe easier to do this at an independent school, but it worked. (My daughter goes to a local school for bilingual kids, the menu isn’t connected to the public school program). At the very least, the parents had their say, it is important to be heard but even better to be listened to.
If you have any stories of what YOU did at your school to invoke change, improvements or anything that you would like to share, don’t hesitate to contact me. I will publish your story….Think about these celebrities and their message…strive to be great food models at home. Making child nutrition a priority benefits everyone NOW and in the future. Tune in again very soon, subscribe, follow me…will be posting with permission some articles from Chef Ann Cooper, The Renegade Lunch Lady. I feel honored that she took the time to email me allowing me to use her articles to spread the word about how we can make school lunch meals better. Bon Appetit!