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Lunch Lessons

by Tiffany in Book Reviews

lunch lessonsEver since my oldest child started all day kindergarten I have been concerned with the issue of school lunches. If you recall I had a few reservations about the school menu awhile back and this prompted me to start making his lunch every day.

While making his lunch fixed the immediate problem, the larger issue of unhealthy food in the schools is still looming. Recently my family was living out of a hotel while we moved into a new house and my son had to eat the school lunches again and I think it is no coincidence that that we saw some unfavorable behavorial changes. I ended up taking him swimming in the hotel pool for 3-4 hours each night before bed to get him to a level of calm that was favorable for sleep. If food is the body’s fuel then how can it “run” on junk food? This issue should concern everyone.

Last week I read the book Lunch Lessons – Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper and Lisa M. Holmes. The statistics in this book are terrifying! Childhood obesity has doubled since 1970…35% of American kids are overweight…25% are obese….14% have type 2 diabetes. The authors also claim that new research shows that 40% of all cancers can be attributed to diet.

I have some personal experience with that and I would be heartbroken if my children ever had to face what I did. But as I have said before…my colon cancer made me see with supreme clarity that diet is the key to health and it is a lesson my kids are taught every day. “Changing the way we feed our children is not a luxury: It is an imperative”.

As Lunch Lessons shows, schools are contributing to the childhood nutrition crisis we now face. Yes, they try to meet USDA standards but many fall short and even then, the USDA’s standards are not nearly good enough in my opinion. Schools continue to feed kids frozen, processed, fried, and sugary foods.

The book goes on to explain how diet is contributing to many childhood and societal problems and why schools are having a tough time turning this around. Schools used to have a cook and an actual kitchen. Do you remember those days? I sure do. At my elementary school we had a real chef and several cooks and HOT meals. Now most schools have food service workers that unpackage, re-heat, and microwave.

Some wonderful examples are given of schools that have risen to the challenge of changing the way their students eat and have been hugely successful.

The Ross School in East Hampton, New York hired Ann Cooper (also called the Renegade Lunch Lady) as their executive chef. She helped to design their cafeteria, which included a wood burning pizza oven, actual ceramic dishes, glasses, and silverware. Can you imagine? It sounds like a restaurant! All food is cooked fresh by chefs and cooks. There are no steam tables, no re-heated or microwaved foods, and no fried or high fat foods. Ann Cooper’s experience at Ross showed that if you put delicious foods…even vegetables and whole grains…kids will happily eat them.

In the Santa Monica/Malibu unified school district the nutritional specialist formes a joint venture with local farmers markets to create a salad bar program in 14 schools. Now 1/3 of the students choose the salad bar option.

In Berkeley, California, the Alice Waters’ Edible Schoolyard program at King Middle School has been a great success. They grow a large portion of food on the school campus and have students do the bulk of the gardening and caretaking. They even do some of the cooking and food studies are a big part of the curriculum. This program has become the heart of the school.

It was so inspirational to read these stories. I could not help but feel that I should work with my son’s school to see how the lunch program can be changed. Only parental activism can spark widespread change.

That is why Lunch Lessons also has many pages of healthy menu options that kids will love as well as a policy guide model to be used by parents and schools to instigate change. Parents should read this book and then donate it to the nutritional advisors at their child’s school.

Friday, May 25th, 2007

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