Lately the media has reported new findings regarding the rise in childhood diabetes and its dire consequences. This news has once again sounded the alarm about the growing epidemic of obesity in our children and youth. The problem is so serious that experts are recommending drastic changes in the way our children eat. But could complacency, denial, and ignorance among the adult population be hindering our young people from getting the help and education they need to make these drastic changes?
Dinner Tables and School Cafeteria Trays
During a recent school-screening visit to a high-ranking eastern college for one of my daughters, I had the opportunity to raise questions about the quality of the food available through the campus cafeteria. Was the food being served at their school free from pesticides? Was it non-GMO? What about meat sources? Were the students being served factory farm animals injected with hormones and antibiotics? Were there natural, healthy and organic food options available in the cafeteria–as adopted by some of the more cutting-edge schools across the nation such as Yale, UC Berkley, Duke and Oberlin Colleges?
The question seemed to stump the college staff member. She said she wasn’t sure of the quality of the food in the cafeteria. She didn’t know if there was any kind of focus being placed on providing students with natural, vegetarian or organic options. It was not clear that the school provided nutritional fare that addressed some of the grave health concerns that are confronting Americans at younger and younger ages…visions of an array of fried foods, processed starches, and sugary desserts covering cafeteria trays swam before my eyes.
What we are finding at The Food Evolution is that this reaction is somewhat typical of school professionals at every educational level. When I founded the Coalition for Better School Food in Rockland County, I had the opportunity to ask food service directors of our local educational institutions about nutritional quality and education in elementary, middle and high schools. I was told that kids wouldn’t eat healthy-looking food and that they only wanted the kind of food you could find in any fast-food restaurant. Further, they implied that it was not the responsibility of the school system to provide healthy food options for kids. That’s the parent’s job.
While I agree that healthy eating habits start at home and that parents need to demonstrate them for their children in the kitchen and at the dinner table, it doesn’t dismiss our educational system from its responsibility to teach good nutrition. Our schools must provide information and training about the elements of a good diet and must lead by example. That means clean, healthy cafeteria food. And healthy does not and should not imply “unappealing to kid’s taste buds”. Healthy, natural food, prepared with good recipes, can be far more delicious than the fast food that now holds sway on the school cafeteria lunch menu.
Sadly, political concerns have impeded the progress of the campaign for better school food. We cannot afford to turn a blind eye to this important issue and allow big food conglomerates to dominate school cafeteria fare simply by default.
We are supporting Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Day on May 19th by hosting a local event here at The Food Evolution in Bardonia, New York in commemoration of the occasion. We will be giving folks the opportunity to register to come to eat a sample “healthy lunch” that would be ideal fare for a school cafeteria menu.
Our sample lunch menu: Spring Vegetable Soup, Black Bean Burgers, Sweet Potato Fries, Mixed Green Salad with homemade dressing, and chocolate chip oatmeal raisin cookies for dessert.
These dishes are simple to prepare, tasty to eat and highly nutritious.
A foundation for lifelong healthy eating begins in early childhood. If we introduce kids to healthy, natural foods, give them dietary knowledge, and teach them how to prepare delicious meals, they are likely to carry good eating habits forward into adulthood.
Taking children to the local Farmer’s Market to shop for produce, is an example of expanding on the way we learn about and shop for food. In our area, the Rockland Farm Alliance has formed a network of local farms that supply locally grown foods through farmers markets and Community Supported Agriculture programs. This is the kind of organization that we support and want to include in our efforts to enlarge the nutritional scope of our young people.
We need a revolutionary approach to changing our food system. Taking on cafeteria school food is vital if we are to stave off childhood overweight, malnutrition, and illnesses caused by poor quality nutrition for our youth. The evolution of food on our planet depends on a gentle but firm revolution in the market, the kitchen, and in the cafeteria.