We are giving away a copy of Lunch Wars: How to Start a Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health by Amy Kalafa! Read this excerpt and leave a comment for your chance to win the book!
Let’s Do Lunch
One should not have to be a superhero, a magician, or a saint to get healthy, tasty food into the school cafeteria. – Janet Poppendieck
Whether your child brings lunch or buys it, you need to know what your school’s food environment is like. The cafeteria, the classrooms, the hallways, the playgrounds, the athletic fields, and the buses are all part of a school’s food environment. The food itself and the messages about food, whether overly taught or insidious dictate the school’s food culture and will have a great influence on your child over the course of 180 days a year for twelve years.
The typical American child eats less than one serving of fruit a day and somewhere from 30 to 156 pounds of sugar per year, depending upon which statistics you read. Is your school system reinforcing this diet by handing out candy in class and selling junk food in the cafeteria? I didn’t think much about the school food environment when my daughters were young. I figured since we at well at home and sent them to school with a packed lunch, they were immune to the school’s food culture. I thought school food was a missed opportunity to educate children about food, but I didn’t realize that the school system was actually undermining our family’s healthy food habits until I went to my daughter’s middle school to investigate the lunch program. Learning that she had been purchasing Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispies treats, french fries, and soft drinks on a daily basis became the focal point for a movie and a movement.
Since that time, I’ve been on a quest to learn what parents need to know and do to get better food into their children’s schools. I’ve met hundreds of other parents who describe themselves as Angry Moms, but we’re also less affectionately known as the Food Police or Nutrition Nazis. Really we are all just parents trying to take back the school food environment from the Junk Food Bullies. It’s a tough job, and everyone wants to know what to do first. The Web abounds with articles promising “Five Ways Parents Can Reform School Food,” “Seven Tips for Better School Food,” and “Three Simple Steps to Clean Up the Cafeteria.” These magic lists are filled with good ideas, but the one piece of advice that every list has in common is go have lunch with your child. In fact, the USDA (United States Department of Agriculture), the agency that oversees school meals programs, in the “Ten Steps for Parents,” counsels as step 1, “Do lunch with the kids. Eat breakfast or lunch at school with your kids. See what meals they like. Notice the atmosphere. If you don’t like what you see, do something.” Indeed, one of the first things parents should do, skeptics and advocates alike, is make a date for lunch. Let the folks in the front office know you’re there. Most schools will require you to wear a visitor’s badge. Some schools may even try to keep you out. I hear stories of parents being banned from the cafeteria but it’s your right to visit there with your child — the USDA says so!