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Friday, August 31, 2012

Our School Lunches Need A Makeover!

Michelle Obama, our first lady, is a mother first and I respect that a lot!  She also spills the love for her children over to our children. She has put her position as first lady to good use by trying to improve the very unhealthy lunch system our schools have inherited.  I remember the staples of my school lunches growing up: chicken nuggets, french fries, pizza, hot dogs, chocolate milk, cookies, brownies and cakes to name a few.  While we may have had a small selection of fruits or vegetables to choose from, the previous list was what was at the forefront when going through the cafeteria line.  Now that I am grown with kids of my own and truly understand what those choices do to a small person’s body and mind, I want to be part of the movement to change what is served in our cafeterias!   Here are few things that schools around the country are doing to try to educate our children on the importance of healthy eating.

In the state of Washington, one school district, for the past 4 to 5 years has implemented a fruit, vegetable and grain of the month program.  In this program, one food is featured from each category every month.  They also give information about each one on the school district’s website.  What a wonderful way to introduce new foods to kids and a great way for parents to get involved and learn as well.  Here is an example of September’s Featured Fruit Vegetable and Grain including a recipe at the bottom of the page to encourage parents to introduce it at home also! The school district even goes as far as to hang educational signs in the lunch room and have tastings of each.  They have introduced grains such as farrow, brown rice, wheat pasta, wheat berries, couscous and bulgur.  This is such a great way to get kids to try new things that may not be offered to them at home.

In Ohio, there has been a debate on serving chocolate milk at lunch time.  The USDA recommends that any flavored milk that is offered should be fat free.  This has caused some districts to switch their milk brands to accommodate these changes, finding brands that contain no high fructose corn syrup , is produced locally and contains 10-15 percent fewer calories and sugar than regular chocolate milk.  My opinion is… just get rid of it!  Offer regular milk and water; let the parents be the judge of what flavored milk or juice there child receives at home.  Some parents may prefer that there child does not drink those kinds of drinks but it is hard to regulate that when the options are there and we are not!

School Districts in Louisiana have teamed up with the Edible School Yard Program programs that help the children understand the concept of field-to-plate eating by letting them get their hands dirty!  Five school sites have gardens, the biggest one being 1/3 of an acre.  The schools offer hands-on gardening classes that tie into their life science lessons.  The children get to plant, harvest and eat the fruit (or veggies) of their labor.  They also set up field trips to community gardens.  Their philosophy:  teach the kids to “Eat to Learn and Learn to Eat”.   LOVE IT!

 One of my favorites is a county in Kentucky, where they implement a Connect the Dots programs at their elementary schools.  The cafeteria is set up with different colored dots on all the food options.  Each student is encouraged to select a rainbow of colors at lunch.  The color system includes:  blue for dairy/milk, orange for bread/grains, purple for meat/protein alternative, green for veggies and red for fruits.  “The whole idea is that they’re learning and it’s not a sit-down lesson.  The cafeteria is able to contribute to the health knowledge of the school”.  How much fun this must be for the students, especially the younger ones! 

While I love all the changes our Government is trying to make, I still believe that it starts with the parents.  We as parents need to step up at home or this is a “no win” situation.  It makes my heart break that when healthy foods are introduced in schools, some parents respond by not letting their kids buy lunches and pack them a junk filled bag full of non-nutritional garbage.  We should care about our younger generation and WANT them to jump off of the railroad to obesity that so many of our youngsters seem to be on.  The Healthy Edge is offering a “Back to School: Healthy Edge Style” series the whole month of September.  This is a FREE series offered to our online community.  Get Healthy Meal Plans, healthy afterschool snack ideas, recipes, informational audios and more.  And the most beneficial feature is support from other parents who like you and me, put their child’s health first!

What does your local school do to try to implement healthier lunches?

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