Healthy food is fresh, simple, whole, seasonal, local and natural. It is man-grown, not man-made, and is full of nutrients and flavor. It isn’t artificial or hydrogenated and will not last for years. It’s organic and sustainable and doesn’t harm our planet.
Building a Healthy School Food Program
Children flourish in an environment where all their needs are met—physical, mental and emotional. To support their physical health, which in turn can positively affect their attention and learning, serve nutritious, wholesome foods. They provide kids with the energy needed to tackle the challenges of each day.
While maintaining a balanced diet may sound complex, it is actually simple and intuitive. To start, aim to incorporate all of the food groups in responsible ways.
- Source seasonal produce fresh from the farm
- Serve breads and cereals made with whole—rather than refined—grains
- Incorporate organic dairy products—milk, cheese and yogurt
- Eat moderate portions of lean, antibiotic- and hormone-free eggs, poultry and beef
- Offer sustainable, wild-harvested seafood
- Add healthy doses of protein and fiber-rich beans and legumes
- Use good, unhydrogenated oils such as olive, canola, and grapeseed
- Limit intake of sweet snacks and sugary soft drinks. Try to eliminate all products containing high-fructose corn syrup.
A healthy school food program is more than simply nutritious, and it certainly isn’t one-size-fits-all. It is sensitive and respectful of its students by incorporating some or all of the following criteria:
Ethnic foods. We live in a diverse world where cultural awareness and exploration are paramount. Ethnic ingredients and flavors contribute richly to our national cuisine and open our senses to international flavors. From adding new spices to bland dishes to introducing children to the traditions of other cultures, ethnic foods serve as practical teaching tools. By setting this high standard, we can build an environment of acceptance and respect.
Vegetarian and vegan foods. The inclusion of vegetarian options in the school food program is one way to ensure a balanced menu that offers choices for everyone. Vegan foods, which do not use any animal products whatsoever—including dairy and eggs—should be provided as well. Soy, tempeh and legumes are good sources of nutritious, vegan protein. Whole grains combined with beans form complete proteins that are filling and nutritious and low in saturated fat.
Artificial ingredients and preservatives. By reading and understanding labels, we can eliminate preservatives, trans fats, artificial sweeteners and flavorings in our children’s food. Cheap, pervasive additives like caffeine, high-fructose corn syrup and sugar stimulate our children in unhealthy, unproductive ways. High-fructose corn syrup is found in unexpected places—not only in soft drinks, but also jams, baked goods and condiments such ketchup. MonoSodium Glutamate (MSG) and nitrates flavor and preserve foods, masking innate integrities and adding toxic chemicals that bodies struggle to process. A healthy school food program banishes these ingredients—and children are all the better for it.