Thursday, February 18, 2010

Real Food for Real Kids

Food for thought from the Greenhabilitator...

Mmmmmm....remember school lunches as a kid? Cardboard pizza, macaroni and glue, barf-a-roni.

I'm a bit too young to remember (ha - I love saying that!) when lunch ladies actually prepared lunch (scrubbing and mashing potatoes, sifting flour to make biscuits). Mine opened cans, mixed a bit, boiled, baked, and did a whole lot of clean up. We used those lovely trays and real silverware you see above.

These days my kids are lucky to go to a school where they get to choose from three entrees every day including things like Cuban Pork Sandwich, Mandarin Chicken Salad, and Chicken Teriyaki with brown rice. Sounds fancy (and tastes much better than mac & glue, I'm sure) but it's still processed, cooked, and bagged long before it ever reaches the lunch table.

It's also packaged sort of like airline food now: each individual item in its own plastic dish with plastic wrap on top, sauces on the side in a tiny plastic cup with plastic lid, disposable plastic utensils and napkin in a plastic bag. When the kids are done eating, everything -- including the styrofoam tray -- gets tossed in the trash so that there's very little for anyone to have to clean up.

Did I mention these are the "lucky" kids? If you're an inner-city student where Mr. Greenhab teaches, they give out cereal bars for the kids to eat for breakfast. How can you give a kid a Cinnamon Toast Crunch bar for breakfast and expect him to focus and learn until lunchtime?

As green moms, we make the time to pack nutritious lunches in reusable containers for the health of our kids and the planet. But for the millions of other kids who have to eat processed, unrecognizable food each day, Lunchbox Advocates is stepping up and demanding more.

Lunchbox Advocates, based in the beautiful (and crunchy to the core) Boulder, CO, is a project of the F3: Food, Family, Farming Foundation which believes that all children must have access to healthy food to grow their bodies, minds and future.

The seeds for the Lunchbox Project were planted by "renegade lunch lady" Ann Cooper. In 2000, Ann and her colleagues started collecting knowledge about how to transform school lunches so that kids could grow up to be healthier and more productive adults. They started working on an idea called The Lunch Box and, in 2009, it finally became a reality.

Now up and running, The Lunch Box is a "a systemic change initiative that makes available for free all the hard-fought lessons and tools needed to make school lunch healthier for our kids." In a nutshell, they tell you how to transition your school lunch, step-by-step, into a healthy, more environmentally friendly program. They cover everything: menus, recipes, techniques, shopping lists, budgets and everything else you would need to be successful.

Can you imagine a school cafeteria where boxes of red leaf lettuce are brought in from a local farmer instead of having pre-packaged iceburg lettuce shipped from whoknowswhere? How about whole wheat pasta with freshly made tomato sauce?

Well, I'm sure those of you in Boulder can :) but, for the rest of us, The Lunch Box makes it seem like less of a dream and more of a real possibility.

If you're a noise-maker in your school or community, I would urge you to read through the Lunchbox Advocates' website and pass the information along to your school district. The organization is also working on a letter-writing campaign to encourage Congress to spend $1 more per student, per day on school meals, saying:
"Millions of kids every day eat lunch, and sometimes breakfast, at school. Yet the U.S. Department of Agriculture invests only $2.68 on average per day for each student’s school lunch. We are growing a generation of Americans who think healthy food is cheap food, and who don't have the skills to make better decisions about what they eat. This year, Congress has a chance to transform the way America eats when it reauthorizes the Child Nutrition and WIC Act. Join me and lunch box advocates from across the country in asking Congress to invest $1 more dollar in every child."

I'm not much of a foodie (yet) but I would be willing to bet that $2.68 could still get you a pretty nutritious meal, even if the $1 increase is not approved. But we'll have to think past the convenience of processed, packaged food and think about how much more our children can accomplish with the proper nutrition.


JessTrev said...

My cousin's kids go to Boulder Valley Unified schools and although she's a make-your-own stock foodie kinda woman, she has vowed to "never make lunch again!" I think Ann Cooper is awesome and I would LOOOOVE to have her come to my district! Just met with my kid's principal about this issue a couple weeks ago. To her credit, she's thinking about the issue (got all the random a la carte junk out of the lunchroom last year quietly) but it's hard when you're in a big district. Hope the Obama admin makes some headway....

Daisy said...

I'd love to see improvements in our school lunches. We now have a fresh fruit/ veggie bar, and the kids love it. We switched to a healthy snack policy a few years ago, and families are doing very well at choosing good mid-morning snacks for their kiddos.

Brenna said...

I too would love to see some big changes to the school lunches. We mostly pack lunch, but my son loves to be a "buyer" sometimes too and it would be great to have better options. I also think it's so important for those kids that do buy lunch every day. I am new to public school, but hope to take on this issue soon once I learn how to navigate the system a bit better. ;)


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