Editor’s Note: We’re so happy to bring you this latest guest post from Chef-extraordinaire, Ann Cooper. Chef Ann is a chef, author, director of nutrition services for the Boulder Valley School District and founder of the Food, Family, Farming (F3) Foundation and its pivotal project, The Lunch Box. The Lunch Box is a web portal with free tools for all schools to serve made-from-scratch recipes with fresh, real ingredients.
By Chef Ann Cooper
The President’s Task Force on Childhood Obesity just released its report and action plan to tackle childhood obesity. The report addresses five main strategies:
- early childhood
- empowering parents and caregivers
- healthy food in schools
- access to healthly, affordable food
- increasing physical activity.
*The full report is available here.*
I know these types of reports are important and I do realize they help bring attention to this important issue. But OMG, when are we going to stop talking and start doing?
It seems everyone, well almost everyone today believes that we need to fix school lunch and feed our children healthier. In fact you can’t read a paper, listen to the radio or watch TV without seeing something about kids, school food and health. From Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move to Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution and from experts like Michael Pollan, Kate Adamick and Marion Nestle to foundations like Kellogg, Robert Wood Johnson, Orfalea and Colorado Health and programs like National Farm to School, Slow Food and Healthy Schools Campaign; there seems to be universal agreement that most school food is unhealthy. Not only is it unhealthy, but it is making our children sick to the point that this generation may be the first in our nation’s history to die at a younger age than their parents.
So if all these parties agree that the system is broken, then why isn’t it getting fixed immediately? The answer is politics as usual — money, profit and big business. The abovementioned report, which runs over 100 pages, exemplifies everything that is wrong in politics today. Not once, let me say that again, NOT ONCE, does the report recommend immediate action to have money or other specific resources dedicated to fixing school food.
I am amazed how much talking and how little concrete action has actually happened to fix school lunch. So my calls to action are:
- No more talking! Start doing!
- We must: raise the Federal Reimbursement Rate!
- We must immediately implement the Institute of Medicine guidelines!
- We must dedicate resources for cooking kitchens!
- We must dedicate resources for training school lunch staff!
- We must dedicate resources to a national educational campaign to teach kids and their families about real food!
Below is a somewhat detailed break-down of ten of the recommendations and the language used to describe the actions to be made.
Updating government standards for meals and USDA commodities.
- Language used for meals: the document says the USDA should issue meal plan updates. These said updates are to be based on the findings of the 2005 Dietary Guidelines for Americans by the Institute of Medicine.
- Language used for USDA commodities: again it says the USDA should continue to seek and implement improvements to commodity supplies to ensure the commodities meet school standards.
Increase resources for school meals.
- Language used for Federal Government responsibility: the Federal Government should increase program reimbursements.
- States and local communities should ensure that only service associated with school meals is charged to food service accounts and that additional resources for meal improvements are funded elsewhere.
- School food services should constantly seek improvement, without any up-charge.
USDA should continue to help schools with training.
- USDA will help through guidance and technical assistance.
- Private sector partners (philanthropy to chefs) can help support and provide this training.
Schools should consider upgrading equipment (ex: swapping deep fryers for salad bars).
- Recent funds were made available for this purpose through USDA and were heavily asked for from private sector, (read: no more money).
USDA should work with all stakeholders to market healthier choices to kids.
- USDA will work on tools to use in schools, (again, no money allocated here).
USDA should work to connect school meals with local growers.
- USDA should work to remove barriers to getting local foods into schools.
Schools should be encouraged to make improvements through Healthier US School Challenge in advance of updated Federal standards.
- Again, no money allocated here, just encouragement to meet Healthier US School Challenge standards.
Increase ala cart and vending policy alignment with dietary guidelines.
- USDA currently has little control over this issue, but plans to gain more control after the Child Nutrition programs is reauthorized.
- USDA will then create stricter standards.
Food companies should be encouraged to create healthier products.
- USDA can only affect this change by creating stricter guidelines.
USDA and Dept. of Education should collaborate with states to increase availability and consistency of nutrition education in schools.
- Teachers must teach nutrition in schools.
Read also: Jessica Pieklo’s post on obesity as a disability.
photo credit: courtesy of Ann Cooper