If you haven’t already heard, this week is National School Lunch Week. The School Nutrition Association started the program with the hopes that it will help students understand where food comes from while highlighting the overall benefit that school lunch should help kids grow strong and healthy. This years National School Lunch Week theme is “School Lunch- Let’s Grow Healthy” which was designed to encourage kids to try something new and promote locally sourced foods. From a harvest-of-the-month menu to a school garden to a meet-the-farmer educational presentation and much more. If your school is not participating in the event, you can find resources for kids HERE or if you’re interested in introducing a farm to school program to your district supervisors click HERE for more information.
National School Lunch Week is a great opportunity for parents to raise awareness about the quality of foods being served in schools today. It’s more important than ever as obesity rates among children continue to rise to unprecedented levels. Current estimates state that by the year 2030 86% of American adults will be overweight or obese. EIGHTY-SIX PERCENT?! Combine that with the fact that ONE in THREE children born after the year 2000 will be diagnosed with Type II diabetes by the time they are 50 years old and we have a real dilemma on our hands. Studies show that ONE in THREE kids in the United States are overweight or obese and that has become the number one concern among parents, topping drug abuse and smoking. It is certainly a valid concern as obesity contributes to other health issues such as; high blood pressure, type II diabetes, increased cholesterol levels and can contribute to depression. According to former US Surgeon General Richard Carmona, “because of the increasing rates of obesity, unhealthy eating habits, and physical inactivity, we may see the first generation that will have increased health problems and a shorter life expectancy than their parents.“
Obviously there is more to these alarming statistics than school lunch alone, but by educating students about the quality of food and providing them with the opportunity to eat fresh, local, quality foods at school we are at least giving children a chance. This is why I’m a big believer in parents getting involved with their schools to help improve the school lunch programs.
I’m encouraged to know that many districts, especially in the area where I live (Minneapolis/St. Paul), have taken bold steps to improve the quality of foods being served in their schools. Minneapolis public schools recently eliminated chocolate milk as a drink option! St. Paul and Wayzata Public Schools revised their system to create a more local, sustainable and healthy school lunch program. And countless others have made small changes to their school lunch programs to improve food options for students. BRAVO to the parents and administrators in Minnesota who are setting the stage for schools across the nation.
As part of National School Lunch week, parents are encouraged to visit their child’s school TODAY. The initiative is called “Take Your Parents to Lunch Day” and it was developed as a way to get more parents into lunch rooms to “eat with your child, and talk to the people who serve up the food day in and day out. National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day is about communication—talking to your school and to your child to learn about what’s going well, and how you can work together to make school food even better.”
I encourage any of you that have an opportunity to join your kids for lunch. If not today, then in the near future. Before you go, read some tips and tricks on what to watch for HERE on Jamie Oliver’s blog. (I promise it’s worth the read!)
If you do have a chance to join your kids for lunch today or even later this week, I’d love to hear about your experience. Which foods were easiest for the kids to grab? Was the food cooked on the premises or did most of it come packaged/frozen/canned, etc… What is going well with your local school lunch program?
Before I sign off, I thought I’d show a lunch similar to what is being served on a daily basis around the country in public schools followed by an improved lunch that I believe is very “doable”. Notice how the lunch below (a standard lunch option in many American school cafeterias) is colorless, packed with preservatives, sodium, trans-fat and loads of sugar. Most of the items on the tray came in a can or arrived to school frozen and was re-heated before serving.
The lunch below is an example of what I would love to see offered in school cafeterias on a daily basis. The tray is filled with fresh, local fruits and vegetables, a wrap with lean meat, cheese & lettuce, string cheese and a healthy, low-sugar cookie.
Happy National School Lunch Week to all of you! Let’s make this happen!