Come Together, Over Food
By Marygrace Taylor
On her first day of school, your kid came home thrilled. Her teacher was nice! She had the best cubby in the classroom! There were cupcakes at snack time! Wait…cupcakes?
For parents who’ve tried to promote healthy eating habits at home, it can be frustrating and disappointing when the food being served at school fails to live up to their nutritional expectations. Fortunately, there are steps you can take to initiate real change in the lunch line.
“We need to get wellness policies implemented at schools,” says Chef Ann Cooper (a.k.a. The Renegade Lunch Lady), who successfully cleaned up food at the Berkeley Unified School District in Berkeley, California, and who’s now working with Whole Foods Market to promote thelunchbox.org, a healthy-school-food resource. Cooper points out that, due to a 2006 government mandate, every school should have a wellness policy—but whether or not such policies are actually enforced is often another issue. So what can you do?
“Go to your school district and ask to see the wellness policy, then go to your kid’s school and eat lunch,” says Cooper. “See how your lunch and the policy are dissimilar, then get like-minded parents together and go to the school board.”
Getting your kid’s school to make improvements may be easier than you might think: It worked for Cynthia Walters, a middle school art teacher and a mom of three in Powell, Ohio. Walters lead the way for the creation of an entire wellness team at her school, and now, changes are happening. “Everyone is jumping on board. My food service manager got rid of Pringles and said he’s doing taste-testing on whole wheat pizza crust.” And that’s just the beginning—Walters’ team is even organizing a potluck for students and their families to further promote nutrition education and empower kids to make their own healthy food choices.
Like Cooper, Walters encourages parents to band together in their effort to make school food healthier. Then, “talk to the PTA. They have the direct connection to staff and administrators. Start with one initiative, like teaching kids to read food labels during homeroom or doing taste-testing during lunch, then take that to the school board.” Come next September, your kid might walk in from her first day at school telling you about the carrots and hummus she loved even more than the cupcakes.