School lunch continues to be a hot topic these days. At the end of September, The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 was up for re-authorization and voting was postponed until December 2015. For now, the 5-year-old standards for increasing fruit, vegetable and whole grain consumption and reducing salt in public school cafeterias remain in place, though on shaky footing.
The primary question at the heart of the debate around re-authorizing the Act is not about whether the food is good for our children, but rather, “Do kids actually eat the healthier food if it’s provided to them.” And the answer is yes and no – both sides of the debate can provide evidence to support their claims.
At Grow Your Lunch, we are heartened by the significant strides being made toward increasing the availability of healthy food in schools (see National Farm to School Network, Chef Ann Foundation and Center for Ecoliteracy, among many organizations doing great work in this area) but we remain troubled by the barriers to consumption due to our local youths’ lack of familiarity with fresh fruits, vegetables and whole grains.
In our experience working with more than 100 school communities over the last 6 years, the simplest way to get students to eat fresh produce and whole grains, is to involve them in the very process of growing, harvesting and preparing food, and composting their food scraps.
Let’s face it, kids won’t eat healthy foods simply because they are good for them. They will eat foods only if they are familiar with them. Something magical happens when children develop a relationship with new foods and are empowered with the knowledge of where they come from.
For this reason, Grow Your Lunch has launched a new Garden to Cafeteria Initiative this school year for schools and school districts throughout Central CA. The initiative includes hands-on logistical support for schools and school districts that are ready to take their commitment to healthy food consumption to the next level. Our methods are based on successful precedents set by school districts across the nation. At the heart of our Garden to Cafeteria offerings are:
1.) A Food Safety Protocols Handbook customized to meet the local and regional requirements of the school or school district in question
2.) Professional Development workshops for food service and school garden staff/teachers/volunteers – demonstrating best practices for garden to cafeteria protocols and logistics
3.) A Planting and Harvesting Calendar customized to match the climate and culture of each school district, to be used for menu and curriculum planning
Without this kind of infrastructure in place, we cannot expect a generation of kids raised on Sloppy Joes, Popcorn Chicken and Tater Tots to eat Swiss chard and whole wheat bread, even if it is good for their health and their test scores.
We’re ready to put an end to the debate over whether or not kids will eat healthy food. Will you join us?
What You Can do:
1.) Share this article with friends and colleagues who might be interested in learning more about our Garden to Cafeteria Initiative.
3.) Sign this letter to Congress in support of the Farm to School Act of 2015.
Further Reading and Suggested Resources:
School Nutrition Group Flip-Flops on Protecting Children’s Health – Huffington Post
“Rethinking School Lunch Guide” – Center for Ecoliteracy
Project Produce Grants – Chef Ann Foundation
Healthy Kids Innovation Grant – Whole Kids Foundation
Slow Food USA – National School Garden Program
Food Shift – Food Waste Education