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Director, Antioch Center for School Renewal

Years ago, my youngest child

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Years ago, my youngest child was a participant in a program called Early Sprouts at Keene State College (http://www.earlysprouts.org). It was a great early childhood program, designed to encourage kids to explore a variety of foods by participating in the process of growing and preparing food (something that lots of places do now, but it was new then). The ironic part was that, while she participated in almost all aspects of the program, she wouldn't eat any of it. Now, years later, she still won't- in spite of every effort on our part. (We eat lots of fruits and veggies as a family, but she simply won't consume most of them.) I guess my point is that adults can do all kinds of things to encourage kids to eat right, but some kids just won't eat some foods. I see a lot of healthy food in the garbage at school and the waste makes me sad.

I wonder how we balance our desire to present kids with the healthiest options possible with the reality that no one is well served when food goes in the trash?

Equal Opportunity Lunches

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Ms. O'Brien,

I want to first applaud you for writing so passionately about the subject of healthy school lunches. I could tell that it is something you care about deeply and have thought much about. Thank you for highlighting how the nutrition of school lunches affects so much more than just if the student’s belly is full by the end of his or her meal. That is not to say that a child getting enough to eat from their lunch is not a top priority because of course it is. What you have so thoughtfully demonstrated in your article is that the end goal of preparing excellent school lunches is not simple at all; in fact it is quite complex and at times downright daunting. A school lunch must be nutritious, healthy yet tasty, properly proportioned, and varied - all in addition to being affordable enough for schools to produce and students to purchase. How can one meal possibly fit all of those criteria?

Your list of how teachers can help to promote new healthy school lunches in the classroom was impressive and spoke to me as an aspiring educator. An overall theme I noticed throughout your suggestions was communication with the family of students to ensure that the same positive ideas about healthy eating at school are reinforced at home. This is an ideal situation, one in which the parents, grandparents and siblings of children all enjoy the freedom to consistently access nutritious food options. As many educators know all too well, one of the most consistently frustrating reasons for kids not eating healthy school lunches is because of their family’s financial situation. According to several studies, children who are victims of food insecurity frequently do worse in school than students who are not victims of it. Hunger and nutrition contributor to Livestrong.com Gail Sessums explains: Children who are hungry, and who live in homes where finances cause a stressful environment, often have difficulty socializing with peers and exhibit troublesome behavior due to stress, fatigue, poor concentration and poor coping skills.” That is just a few examples of the many setbacks that children experience in school due to food insecurity at home. Moreover, the school that the child attends may not be receiving enough funds to offer those healthy choices. This is a perpetual problem in urban schools, which more often than not receive miniscule funding, if any at all. There are many non-profit organizations and volunteer programs that function as advocates for healthy food options for low-income families, including large ones like Feeding America, and smaller ones such as Slow Food NYC. Circling back to your list of suggestions for teachers and parents, I am wondering if you have any suggestions for parents in low-income households of how to promote eating healthily at school? It is not easy to exhibit making nutritious choices to children if their top concern is making sure food is on the table at all.

Feeding America: http://feedingamerica.org/
Slow Food NYC: http://www.slowfoodnyc.org/program/urban_harvest

Better Nutrition!

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I am in 100% full support of making lunches more nutritious. Our students need to be given healthy, whole foods while at school. We have no control over what types of foods are given at home, but many unhealthy foods are the foods that are readily accessible to those with low incomes. Serving more nutritionally dense foods at school will result in students having a more balanced meal, access to nutrients that are necessary to development, and ultimately students behavior and academic performance will be better. Someday I hope all schools have to serve whole grains with no added sugars or enriched flours, many tasty vegetable and fruit options, as well as lean proteins.

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