Lunch Lessons: Back to School 2011 (Part 2)

Lunch Lessons: Back To School 2011 (Part 2)

Tue 27 Sep 2011

Story by Chef Ann Cooper

[Read part 1 here]
There are five major challenges to making school food healthier: food, finance, facilities, human resources/education and marketing.

To effectively implement a healthier school-lunch program, we need to eliminate:

Highly processed foods full of sugar, salt, fat, additives, preservatives, and coloring.
Trans fats
High-fructose corn syrup (HFCS)
Flavored milk
Fried foods
Refined sugars and flours
Hormones and antibiotics
Vending machines that sell soda, candy, and chips should be removed.
Competitive foods: foods that are sold in school cafeterias but that are not part of the National School Lunch Program and are therefore not regulated by USDA policies (the recently passed Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act will eventually give authority over these types of foods to the USDA). This means that, day after day, children with money can buy such unhealthy items as fried foods, cookies, sodas, Slushees, and chips.

We should institute:

Gardening classes
Cooking classes
Tastings and Rainbow Days held in cafeterias, as well as during cooking and gardening classes, are a great way to get students to try unfamiliar foods, even something as simple as tasting different varieties of the same type of fruit can be a palate-widening experience for children.
30-minute lunch periods and Recess before lunch
Salad Bars and programs like: Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools (Video)
Cooking from scratch absolutely must be the focus of any healthy school-lunch program. Schools across the nation need to say good-bye to chicken nuggets and hello to roast chicken, toss out the French fries and get busy roasting potatoes and other colorful root vegetables. Canned fruits and vegetables should move over and make room for fresh ones. The Lunch Box website has all the tools schools need to help cook and serve healthier food.

Building, rebuilding or retrofitting cooking facilities is a mandatory part of the change toward a healthier school food system.

All US public schools need more money to adequately finance their breakfast and lunch programs. Currently, the federal reimbursement rate is $2.77 per lunch. Most schools spend less than $1 on food per child per day and this is just not enough.

Unlike school-cafeteria staff of the past, most of today’s kitchen workers lack adequate food-service training. If we want better food for our children, then we have to hire, train and adequately compensate professional staff.

It’s one thing to make the food, another to get kids to eat it. Many successful school lunch programs around the country have employed traditional marketing techniques that treat children as potential customers: they “sell” the food. Attractive advertising, packaging, and service have been shown to increase consumption of a larger variety of school-lunch foods.

If we are going to positively impact the health of our children and our children’s children, then we need to make a change and make it now. I believe that we must demand the following:

Universal Breakfast and Lunch – healthy schools meals should be a birth-rite in America
• Make school meals a health initiative and equate healthy school food to long-term healthy Americans
• Raise the federal reimbursement rate for lunch by $1.00 with a sliding scale based on local demographics
• Implement the new Institute of Medicine Guidelines
• Promote fresh fruits, fresh vegetables and whole grains
• Institute Farm to School Programs and hands-on experiential cooking and gardening programs on a National basis
• Dedicate Federal funds to rebuild kitchens
• Institute a National marketing campaign to make School Food – Cool Food
• Federally fund Culinary “Boot Camps” to train school food service staff to cook real food

Finally we all need to do just one thing, just one thing every day to make the health of our children and our food supply a priority.

Perhaps, just perhaps if we can do all of this we just might save our children and the planet as well.

About the author: Chef Ann, known as the renegade lunch lady, is one of our Food Revolution Professionals. A leader in the school food movement, Ann has transformed meals across the country.

Top right and middle bottom – Kirsten Boyer Photography
Bottom left – Ecology Florida

Chef Ann’s initiatives:
Food, Family, Farming Foundation
The Lunch Box
The Great American Salad Project
Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools


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