Changing School Food & Getting The Kids Involved!Mon 25 Jun 2012
Story by Vanessa Bronder Alward
My seven-year-old son just won his elementary school's recipe contest! Last week students could eat his vegetable lasagne for lunch. I was so proud. I'm sure friends and acquaintances weren't that amazed that he won; after all, everyone knows getting kids to eat well is my passion. And I’m a bit outspoken about it.
A Quest To Improve School Food
I started my quest to improve food served to children several years ago after I learned what sorts of foods the cafeteria offered. I was dismayed and disgusted at the poor quality of food and that the staff didn't actually cook most meals; they just reheated prepared and processed foods.
I quickly found like-minded moms in town who were part of a challenge to change the school food service providers. Although we didn't actually get the provider we wanted, the replacement promised to be better. And though they still reheat more than cook, we thought we were going to get our children better food. The new food service providers also promised to upgrade the kitchens in most of the three town schools. I thought it was a start.
Several times a year I visit with the kitchen staff and then eat lunch with one of my sons. I think I see the staff draw in their breath when they see me coming but I quickly learned to work with them - they are very friendly and have great memories. My eldest often eats the cafeteria food, especially on the biweekly "deli bar" when he creates his one-of-a-kind sandwich. My middle son rarely gets the school lunch but occasionally he'll choose something that sounds good.
Unfortunately, things lately are just the same ol' same ol'. It’s not the kitchen staff’s fault; they’re told what to make by those above them. Not only do I visit the cafeteria, I call the food service director and dietician, and relay my findings to other parents. So, when I told the school PTA that I would gladly serve as "Food Service Liaison" they quickly created the post.
My first meeting was with the food director, dietician and school principal. I arrived armed with mounds of papers with the intent of getting the menu to reflect more nutrient-dense, interesting foods that kids would eat. I found the dietician chooses foods safely (that she knows a majority of kids will eat) over anything a bit interesting. I know kids eat foods that adults overlook—I have 3 boys who amaze adults with the foods they’ll eat. I believe that you just have to give kids the benefit of the doubt; let them try it. I even get parents who tell me not to “fix” the lunches too much (too healthy) or else their kids might not eat.
My Kids Really Eat This
I began my blog www.mykidsreallyeatthis.com in 2010. I impart tips, recipes and insight on getting kids to eat well. I figured if I could do it, then anyone could. I’m just a busy mom of three, who works from home, volunteers too much and never gets the laundry done-- with no nutrition background. What prompted me to blog was that so many of my friends/acquaintances would ask for advice on how to cook certain foods or how did I get my boys to eat their vegetables; I thought I could help others. I like to cook, my husband is a chef (who works most nights/weekends) and I just fed my kids what we ate. Simple. Effective.
So, in that meeting with the food service director, he said he would hold a school wide recipe contest. The rules specified that the recipe had to be healthful, contain common ingredients, no nuts, no fish or seafood. My sons entered the contest with some of their ideas. My husband and I helped with measurements and directions. My 4th grader entered his favorite brown rice/vegetable salad with canned salmon or tuna. It was my second grader, Jackson, who won with his vegetable lasagne: zucchini, squash, mushrooms, spinach, ricotta, mozzarella, parmesan, and a tomato-based sauce make not only a healthful choice but tasty.
The day they served the winning meal I heard positive feedback. One mother said it was so good her boy had seconds! My son was thrilled and got an award, “chef's hat”, and a gift card as well as having it announced on the school PA system. Of course, he ate his winning recipe that day.
It’s far from over. If I can get the food service to improve the menu with fewer processed foods, that'll be an accomplishment! If we have more fun ways of getting the kids involved, like contests, they'll also be more likely to try the new food; because kids will really eat it.
About the author: The work-from-home mother of three boys, 10 and under, and married to a chef, Vanessa Bronder Alward realized that her kids seemed the anomaly because they ate many vegetables and large varieties of foods. She figured her method of feeding her children was the key so she decided to share with others-- hoping to positively influence parents for their children's future health. Most importantly “I want my kids to have a healthy attitude about eating, not to fear it or be obsessed about it”. Vanessa is interested in nutrition though she doesn't always agree with the ever-changing science, “There’s more there than deconstructing the whole food into proteins, vitamins and minerals. I think we need the whole and not just the parts”.
My Kids Really Eat This
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