Lunch Lessons: Back to School 2011 (Part 1)

Lunch Lessons: Back To School 2011 (Part 1)

Tue 27 Sep 2011

Story by Chef Ann Cooper

Not a day goes by without the media addressing America’s growing obesity crisis, and lately the discussion has settled on our children.

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has reported that if American children don’t get their weight in check, their anticipated health problems will significantly shorten their lives, and make them the first generation in our nation’s history to die at younger ages than their parents. In fact the CDC has said, of the children born in the year 2000, one out of every three Caucasians and one out of every two African Americans and Hispanics will contract diabetes in their lifetimes, many before they graduate high school.

With Fall in the air, kids and teachers across the United States are back at their desks and lunchrooms are bustling once again with the rekindling of friendships, brown paper sacks, and lunch trays full of school food. But what of the state of school food, is it getting better? Are we feeding kids healthier? Why should healthy school food matter to every one of us?

A typical school lunch often consists of some combination of pizza, hamburgers, nachos, French fries, or tater tots, all slathered in ketchup and ranch dressing, all served with a side of sugary flavored milk. There is no doubt in my mind that these mediocre school lunches are contributing to the obesity crisis – and that if we do not take action NOW to make school lunch healthy – we will all pay the price in healthcare costs, and more importantly the lives of those who are important to us, our children.

The solution to our health crisis must include dramatic improvements to our National School Lunch Program because so many children depend on it. Each day NSLP feeds over 31 million children, and those numbers are rising as our economy sinks. School lunches are contributing to the rise in obesity and diet-related illnesses loom over our children due to the gradual effects bad food has on their health. In the near future we will be paying in the health of our families for not making drastic changes now. Can you imagine all the kids that will grow up with illnesses like diabetes, high blood pressure and heart disease if we don’t make these changes?

There are things we can and need to do now. How can we all be a part of a solution? First we must understand the five major challenges to making school food healthier and how we can all help schools to overcome them.

A strong school-lunch program eliminates highly processed foods and puts the emphasis on fresh whole foods cooked from scratch. But, as you might imagine, choosing fresh, locally grown foods presents schools with all kinds of challenges. Unlike those of 20 or 30 years ago, most of the cafeterias in today’s schools lack fully functional kitchens and the trained staff to operate them, which makes actual, cooking a virtual impossibility. Additionally, inadequate funding makes it extremely difficult to shift from highly processed to cooked from scratch food.

There are five major challenges to making school food healthier: food, finance, facilities, human resources and marketing.

Read part 2 of Chef Ann’s Lunch Lessons here with more detail on the five major challenges.

About the author: Chef Ann, known as the renegade lunch lady, is one of our Food Revolution Professionals. A leader in the school food movement, Ann has transformed meals across the country.

Images: Bottom left and right, Kirsten Boyer Photography

Chef Ann’s initiatives:
Food, Family, Farming Foundation
The Lunch Box
The Great American Salad Project
Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools


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