By Dawn Matthews
Food is something I am passionate about. My father and grandmother always instilled in me the way family comes together, the way you nurture one another through the preparation, the cooking, and the eating, and just the sharing of food and time at the table. Every day I take great care in meal planning and love it. One thing on my mind lately is what to do when my daughter Chloé starts school in a few years. Will she take her lunch every day? If she doesn’t take a lunch, will the lunch at the school be nutritious? Then I realized that whether the lunch offered by school will be nutritious should not even be a question: it should be a given and not an issue. Turns out — it is a major issue!
Why Is it Important?
We are in a health crisis in the United States. I am not here to scold or police anyone for eating fat, sugar, meat, gluten, or what have you. It’s not always easy to have a healthy lunch day in and day out, but we have to be aware of what is going on at our schools and in our homes, and help our children and try our best. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) found that at least 30% of all children are overweight and that 1 out of every 3 children born in the year 2000 will have diabetes in their lifetime. They also wrote that today’s children will be the first generation EVER to live shorter lives than their parents. I was stunned to read this. It is time for a change — beyond time for change. Thankfully, other people have recognized this epidemic and have started initiatives to help. We can all make a difference by getting healthy lunches into schools. Not only is it important to decrease childhood obesity, diabetes, and other preventable diseases; but it should be a birthright for our children to know what real food is and to be educated about healthy eating habits.
Where do we start?
President Harry S. Truman said, “No nation is healthier than its children or more prosperous than its farmers.” Based on the statistics of the CDC, I am absolutely terrified to think of the state of our country today and where we will be in the future. If we all do one thing, take one step, we can better the lives of our children — our future!
Cook/Create a healthy environment home: By cooking healthy meals at home, you are giving your children a chance at health. Try to eat dinner together as a family and try to cook whole foods instead of processed foods. By cooking at home, you educate your children about what food actually is as well as teach them about “sometimes” foods or indulgences vs. everyday healthy options and empower them to make better choices. If you aren’t a fan of cooking, then just try to learn a few recipes for your children. There are so many resources these days — try Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution for inspiration http://www.jamieoliver.com/us/foundation/ jamies-food-revolution/recipes) or ask a friend.
In addition to cooking, create a healthy environment at home. My family made it a top priority to sit down together every night and eat together, no matter what. I follow this today. Some ways to manifest a healthy home space are to eat meals together, turn off the t.v. and cell phones during mealtime, get your children involved in planning and cooking meals, and exercise together. There is an amazing campaign led by our first lady, Michelle Obama, to raise awareness, and to make children and their health a priority. In 2010, she began “Let’s Move,” an initiative providing tons of information for parents about how to get started. For a full action plan, visit letsmove.gov/parents
Get Involved: In order to change lunch at your local schools, you have to be part of a revolution. We need to teach our children about food, but we have to do more than simply say that’s bad or wrong and shake our heads. We need to make sure that whole, good food is available for them at school. We, me, you, and I. If we don’t do it, we cannot expect someone else to do it for us. Some ways to begin include going to the local school and eating a lunch there, seeing for yourself what a lunch at school consists of, then going from there — maybe starting a school wellness committee. Meet with the school board members about the nutrition of school lunches; start a garden at the local school; donate to an organization for school lunch awareness; sign a petition; rally for more fruits and veggies at school. There is a super program right now to add salad bars to school. Check out the website: http://saladbars2schools.org. Just do one thing and spark a change.
Encourage Nutrition Education: Who remembers home economics? To reduce costs, many schools have removed home economics from their curriculum. Sadly, the results are that most kids don’t have a clue about how to cook a meal. Oftentimes, parents are busy or don’t even know themselves how to show their children these skills. Maybe your school can’t afford a home economics class anymore, but it can be creative and educate about food while still meeting some other course requirements. For example, teachers can bring in a new fruit each week and have the kids learn about it, write about it, draw it. Another way is to have guest speakers such as a local chef or nutritionist visit the school. “The physical and emotional health of an entire generation and the economic health and security of our nation is at stake.”- First Lady Michelle Obama
I know this article may sound extreme or even outlandish, but I want to get you fired up! This is important, and I don’t think it is too much to ask for our children to outlive us by being given the chance to eat actual food. Even if you don’t have a child in school, this affects you greatly. If moms and dads and families work together to take tiny steps toward healthy changes at school, we can improve our children’s health and even combat preventable diseases that plague them and our nation today — and we are all worth it.