It’s no surprise that the food kids eat influences their wellbeing. In addition to affecting their health, the food kids eat can also affect their mood, behavior, and their ability to learn. Though many children bring their own lunches to school, over 31 million kids eat school lunch, which can range from healthy, fresh, and delicious to unhealthy, super-processed, and unrecognizable.
The Berkeley Unified School District serves kids fresh, local fruits and vegetables, hormone and antibiotic free milk, grass-fed meat, and whole grain, organic bread. High school students in Escondido, California are happy to eat school meals that are cooked from scratch. Not all students are quite as lucky. Mrs. Q works at a school in Illinois and has decided to eat the same school lunch as the kids every day in 2010. She takes pictures of the food - which is prepared off-site and heated in those airplane food-style containers - and blogs about her experience at http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com.
The good news is that school lunch has been getting a lot of attention from some important people recently. Last month, First Lady Michelle Obama launched Let’s Move (http://www.letsmove.gov), a national initiative to end the childhood obesity epidemic within a generation. One of the four pillars of the initiative is Healthier Schools, which means that the Administration will be working to improve the nutritional quality of food in schools. (You might be glad to hear that another pillar of the program is Physical Activity.)
Jamie Oliver, a celebrity chef from England, and the winner of the 2010 TED Prize, has come over to America to help change school meals and the way people eat at home. His efforts are being documented on a new 6-episode show on ABC. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution runs on Fridays at 9pm EST, but if you missed the sneak preview of the first episode last Sunday, you can see it here or watch it when it runs again on Friday, March 26th at 8pm EST.
Jamie’s show illustrates a lot of the obstacles faced by those working to improve school food. It is very difficult to serve delicious, healthful meals to children with a food budget of less than a dollar per meal. Many schools need to sell junk food in vending machines and snack bars in order for their budgets to break even. Procuring local food is not always possible, due to bureaucratic and logistical barriers.
People who are interested in improving school food have a unique opportunity right now. Every five years, Congress reauthorizes the Child Nutrition Act, which determines the budget, nutritional requirements, and other policies having to do with the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Programs. Congress will most likely be voting on the bill this April, so this is the perfect time to contact Congress about improving funding, getting rid of junk food in schools, and funding Farm to School programs, which make it possible to use food from local farms and to have school gardens. If you are interested in getting involved, Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign website is a great resource. — Christine Binder
Christine Binder is a graduate student of public health nutrition at New York University, and an intern at Slow Food USA in Brooklyn, NY.
Slow Food USA is a non-profit organization working to create a just and sustainable food system. Slow Food USA has 225 volunteer-led chapters across the country, representing more than 150,000 membersand advocates. The organization creates youth programs to bring the values of eating local, sustainable and just food to schools and campuses; preserves and promotes vanishing foods and food traditions; and advocates for food and farming policy that is good for the public, good for farmers and workers, and good for the planet.