Calling All Moms, Parents, Advocates!Thu 10 Apr 2014
Story by Stacy Whitman
I’m what you might call an accidental activist. I certainly didn’t set out to be a vocal proponent of healthy school food. I am not a person who likes making waves or drawing attention to myself. But since no one at our school seemed to be addressing the junk food problem--and I couldn't stand to watch helplessly as my kids were loaded up with sugar and artificial colors--well, here I am, a concerned mom who has decided to speak up and get involved.
It began back when my oldest son (now age 8) was in Kindergarten. Shocked by all the sugary treats that he was getting in class, I consulted a couple of health-conscious moms whose children were further along in the school system. “Don’t bother trying to do anything about it!” they both said, as if we were living in a dictatorship. “Nothing will ever change.”
Nothing. Will. Ever. Change. Those four little words lit a fire under me that has turned into a two-year crusade to prove them wrong. Not that I have any desire to one up them. That’s not what this is about. You see, in my mind, change has to happen. There is simply too much at stake. It's about the health of our kids and their future kids. For me, sitting back and doing nothing isn't an option.
I’m not sure if you’ve heard in my voice lately, but I’m tired. For two years, I’ve been working to create healthier classrooms, stop junk food rewards, strengthen our school district wellness policy and push for fresh, wholesome cafeteria food—and there are days that I am just not sure how much more I have left in me. At times, the rate of change seems almost glacial. Convincing a group of parents—much less a school district—to do away with ice cream rewards, candy fundraisers and those ubiquitous birthday cupcakes? You might as well be asking them to give up their firstborns.
I'm not the only one feeling weary. I’m hearing it in your voices, too. Recently, one of my heroes, preschool nutrition educator Caron Gremont, opened up on her First Bites blog: “We all talk about the importance of giving children a strong and healthy foundation...and that children are eating way more sugar than they should be...and that we should avoid food dyes... and that it'd be better for everyone to eat less processed food and more real food. But some days, it just feels like we are talking to ourselves. Sometimes it feels like those messages just aren't changing how many parents and teachers are thinking and acting.”
Oh, believe me, I have plenty of moments in which I question the point of it all. But when I am able to step back and consider the big picture, I do see a shift. Across the country, the food movement has taken hold. We have organizations like the Center for Science in the Public Interest, Food Day, Jamie Oliver’s Food Foundation and the Food Revolution , Action for Healthy Kids, and many more out there spreading the word and advocating for change. We have Michelle Obama's Let's Move! and the new United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) school meal and competitive snack rules.
In my kids’ school, I see a growing number of teachers getting on board with healthy parties and non-food rewards. More school administrators are encouraging healthy snacks in the classroom. More parents are swapping donuts and cupcakes for pumpkin muffins and fruit kabobs. Do I wish that even more was happening—and happening at a faster pace? Hell, yeah! As a parent, it is hard to be patient when you understand the consequences of poor food choices, and your child's health is at risk. But in my more rational moments, I try to remind myself that Rome wasn’t built in a day--and trust (or hope?) that our kids will somehow turn out OK.
One thing is certain: We never would have gotten this far without people being willing to stand up and become part of the solution. And that parental involvement is what we need now more than ever. We need more parents to speak up as writer Christina LeBeau of Spoonfed: Raising Kids to Think About the Food They Eat notes in her must-read post, "Kids Aren’t the Problem. Parents Are." We also need them to advocate quietly as Alli Howe, M.P.H., of Don’t Panic, Mom! proposes in “Become a School Wellness Ninja: Lesson 1."
As Allison Cayne wrote in a HuffPost piece called "Food is the New Black" (an article that I frequently refer to), “...for the food movement to go beyond trend and make a lasting change in the way we live and grow and eat, then we've all got some serious work to do.” Yes, indeed--and if every single one of us agreed to do ONE small thing to try and improve the food environment at our child's school, what a difference we could make!
So consider this your rallying cry. If you've been out there advocating already, keep up the great work! If you've been watching from the sidelines, it's time to take action. While vocal advocates can be powerful (as school food blogger Bettina Elias Siegel recently discussed on The Lunch Tray), you certainly don't have to be an outspoken, fist-waving proponent of healthy school food to further the cause. Your act could be as quiet and simple as writing a letter to your school principal, providing a list of non-food rewards for teachers, offering to plan a healthy school fundraiser or bringing a fruit platter to the next class party.
Do one small--or, better yet, big--thing, then wait a few weeks and do it again. Or, be one and done. Either way, you'll have played a part. Will your action(s) have an impact? It probably won't be dramatic and you may not notice it. But you will be helping to raise awareness and contributing to the overall food movement. And if we can get other moms (and dads and teachers and school administrators) to join us, we could start seeing real results at our schools. It may take time, but we can't give up.
Taking a Stand Against Junk Food in School: Why It is Hard--But We Need to Anyway!
Michelle Obama, Can You Hear Us? We Need (More) Help Getting Junk Food Out of Our Schools!
Creating a Healthy School: 3 Wellness Ideas that Work
A Healthy School Birthday Party--But Did We Really Need the Food?
About the Author: Stacy Whitman is the real-food lovin' mom behind the blog School Bites: One Mom's Crusade for Better Nourished Kids at School (and at Home!). Visit School Bites and join the School Bites community on Facebook and Twitter for more information about creating healthier schools and improving food choices for kids. And check out School Bites on Pinterest for fun and healthy food ideas for school parties and more!
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