There are many factors that contribute to the difficulty of serving healthy school lunches, and the latest news on pink slime doesn’t bode well for the nation’s children. Despite the difficulties, there are several programs around the nation that have helped schools implement programs that not only serve healthy food, but help teach children important lessons about healthy eating and where food comes from.
Here is a look at a few of these innovative programs:
Healthy Foods for Healthy Kids is a small program with a big impact. HFHK works with Delaware Public Schools, helping students plant, maintain, harvest and eat more vegetables right from the schoolyard. The organization has also developed curriculum for students of all ages to help gain an understanding of the importance of eating healthy and the process behind the food on their plates. The organization focuses not just on getting kids to eat more vegetables, but on teaching life skills the students can carry with them beyond the school house doors. Parents marvel when kids come home asking to start a garden, showing parents how to read seed packets for valuable information, and requesting radishes on their next grocery trip.
Edible Schoolyard is an organization that started in Berkeley, CA and has since spread around the nation. It was founded by Alice Waters, the head chef and owner of Berkeley restaurant Chez Panisse, who used her restaurant’s foundation to fund the dream project. Edible Schoolyard helps schools implement school vegetable gardens as well as “teaching kitchens” inside the schools. According to their website, the goal is to turn school lunch “from an afterthought to an opportunity.” Teaching kitchens are not only used to teach about culinary arts, nutrition and agriculture, but teachers also use them to give a hands-on approach to lessons in fractions and history.
FarmtoSchool is an organization that currently works with more than 10,000 American schools to promote children’s health and local agricultural economies. Their mission is to connect local farms with local schools for the mutual benefit of both parties. The program provides agricultural education for the students as well as increased marketing and sales opportunities for the local food producers. In addition to providing valuable agricultural lessons and healthier food for the students, this program can also be beneficial for the school’s budget. FarmtoSchool helps schools make smarter menu-planning choices and encourages schools to purchase products in-season, which can help lower costs significantly.
These programs provide more than just healthy food and an understanding of the farm-to-plate process. They also provide students with a sense of purpose and in some cases have shown dramatic changes in student behavior. In one Wisconsin school that implemented a school lunch program replacing burgers with salads and coke with water, teachers say that the impact in the classroom has been astounding. Teachers no longer have to deal with angry outbursts, so they can focus more on academics than behavioral management. Of course, changing the menu is not a miraculous cure-all for every student problem. However, according to the school counselor, a change in diet has helped the students achieve a new level of calmness and rationality that makes addressing their real-life problems that much easier.