Don’t worry. I promise not to post horrible pictures of the sub-standard, sugar-laden, artificial color-filled, over cooked commodity that is the school lunch program in America. I’ll leave that to others (like this Mom who ate a school lunch every day for a year).
It’s enough to make any Real Food loving parent cry. Feeding our children well is a BIG problem. New standards released this month by the U.S.D.A. will do very little to actually change anything.
What we’ll probably see as a result of the new guidelines is food manufacturers reformulating their products or perhaps creating new ones. Most schools don’t serve fresh foods, but rather meals made from highly processed components that arrive frozen from manufacturers around the country, who frequently make their products specifically to conform with school meal requirements.
Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest, a key lobbyist on school food matters, recently told The Washington Post that judging the guidelines in terms of food quality, as opposed to health measures, is a “foodie” concern. But of course the quality of food does matter if you want kids to eat it, and if you’re trying to teach children the difference between real food and the junk they are exposed to every day.
What Wootan and these guidelines fail to take into account is the growing concern that schools not merely feed hungry children, but show them there is another world of food besides the junk food culture they grow up in.
It’s not just a matter of putting food in kids’ bellies, not when food insecurity and obesity exist side-by-side. This really is a question of social justice for our times: Whether disadvantaged children for whom the subsidized meal program is designed deserve an opportunity to eat quality food just as much as children from families who can afford to shop at a farmers market. Picture the difference between processed chicken nuggets (still allowed under the new guidelines) and cooked-to-death broccoli, versus a salad bar of fresh vegetables, fruits and maybe chicken salad.
What the public and mainstream media have yet to grasp is that serving real food in school takes radical changes on the local level, not merely tinkering with standards originating in Washington. That means an attitude change and a commitment on the part of local school officials, parents and elected leaders.
And maybe it takes a bit more than the measly six cents per meal Congress has allotted to make all these improvements.
So, how can you teach your children “the difference between Real Food and the junk they are exposed to every day?”
How can you start demanding “radical changes at the local level?” Changing your own community?
It starts with exposing kids to passionate teachers and quality foods. In the community, that might look like working with kids in an after school garden-to-plate program (or perhaps even lobbying for it to be part of their science curriculum). As parents, you can probably help your kids in that second department by making sure that you serve up Real Food on their dinner plates.
But what about “passionate teachers”? Particularly teachers who are willing to emphasize the difference in quality and nutrition between industrialized food and Real Food? CAFO-produced meats and pasture-based animal husbandry? Sustainable and organic systems that create soil versus soil-depleting, chemical-laden mono-crops?
If you feel like that part of your child’s education is lacking, consider enrolling them (or yourself!) in my upcoming Real Food Nutrition & Health E-Course.
Each week’s lesson contains:
- Engaging Reading Assignments
- Time-Saving Audio Files
- Informative yet Entertaining Videos
- Group Discussion Questions
- Creative and Thought-Provoking Projects
Interested? Want to learn more about what each lesson covers or see a sample video? Click here.
(photo by Aria Photography)