Good Nutrition Starts at School

September 14th, 2009


One Tray graphicI haven’t got much in common with Whitney Houston; I’m not tall or thin, and I can’t belt out show-stoppers. Oh, and I’m white. But, like Whitney, I believe that children are our future. We all agree – whatever size, shape or color we may be – that it’s in everyone’s interests to feed our children well.

“Good nutrition is essential to good learning,” as President Lyndon B. Johnson stated when he signed the Child Nutrition Act into law in 1966.

Kids need fresh, wholesome, nutrient-dense foods to ensure proper brain development; talk about a no-brainer! You can’t nourish children on a steady diet of processed foods full of fatty, empty carbs and sugary soda or juice.

And yet, we’ve been trying to do just that for the past few decades. Heat ‘n’ serve convenience foods have replaced made-from-scratch meals in cafeterias and kitchens all over the country. As Michael Pollan points out in Food, Inc., “the way we eat has changed more in the last 50 years than in the previous 10,000.”

The result? Obesity rates among children have doubled in the last 10 years and tripled for adolescents, according to One Tray, a national campaign dedicated to promoting “more healthful, more sustainably produced and regionally sourced school food that can improve the health of kids, develop new marketing opportunities for farmers, and support the local economy.” Sounds like a win-win-win to me.

We know fruits and vegetables are packed with all kinds of nutrients and fiber and other key ingredients that keep us healthy. And yet, only 2% of children get enough fruits and vegetables to meet the USDA’s Food Guide Pyramid serving recommendations. An entire generation is missing out on the pleasures of home-cooked meals made with freshly harvested foods.

But there’s a growing movement to reclaim our food chain and give our children the tools they need to achieve kitchen literacy. It begins with feeding them real food, but it doesn’t stop there; programs are flourishing all over the country dedicated to teaching kids how to grow food and cook it, too.

One Tray Campaigns like One Tray At A Time and Slow Food’s Time For Lunch are galvanizing support for better school food. Chef Ann Cooper, the Renegade Lunch Lady, has launched a new website, The Lunch Box, whose motto is “healthy tools to help all schools”.

Family Cook Productions has been a pioneer in the development of programs that provide families, schools, and corporations with the skills to “bring families together around delicious, fresh food”. Lynn Fredericks, the founder of Family Cook Productions, is also the author of Cooking Time Is Family Time: Cooking Together, Eating Together, and Spending Time Together, an ahead-of-its-time guide that shows parents how to make mealtime a fun, family-centered activity that kids of all ages can participate in.

Meatless Monday is getting ready to launch its own contribution to this real food renaissance: The Kids Cook Monday. We’ll be featuring kid-friendly recipes, how-to videos, materials for teachers and other resources to inspire kids and parents everywhere to start each week off by making eating right on family night.

Kerry Trueman is an edible landscaping advocate who writes about real food, low-impact living and sustainable agriculture for the Huffington Post, AlterNet, the Green Fork, Air America, and EatingLiberally.org. Her latest project is Retrovore.com, a website for farmers, gardeners and eaters who favor conservation over consumption.