All over the U.S. there are school districts, advocacy groups and chefs working to turn the tide of fast food lunches through initiatives for accessing and serving sustainable meals. From New York City to Appleton, Wisconsin, from Los Angeles to Santa Monica and from Washington DC to Portland Oregon, positive change is spreading by leaps and bounds.
For example, Farm to School programs are sprouting up across the country. Schools buy and feature farm fresh foods such as fruits and vegetables, eggs, honey, meat, and beans on their menus; incorporate nutrition-based curriculum; and provide students experiential learning opportunities through farm visits, gardening and recycling programs. These programs connect schools with local farms with the objectives of creating healthy cafeteria meals, improving student nutrition, and providing vital health and nutrition education opportunities, while supporting and building connections with local family farms.
A new federal government mandate offers another very positive opportunity. This mandate requires school districts, day care centers, juvenile centers, and other facilities that receive federal dollars for feeding programs to form a Wellness Committee to formulate and adopt a Wellness Policy by the start of school year 2006-07. The policy defines what Wellness is, and how it is to be achieved. A Wellness Committee is comprised of a diverse, inclusive group of community members, educators, school administrators, health care professionals, and others who work together to develop a policy that reflects community values, concerns, and aspirations for its children. Wellness policies restore authority for decisions affecting the health of children to their families and communities. The Center for Ecoliteracy, collaborated with Slow Food USA, the Chez Panisse Foundation and many experts including myself to produce the Model Wellness Policy Guide, which we hope will be used to foment change in school food all across America.
Here are but a few of the many wonderful and inspiring projects that are helping to change the way we feed our children, plus resources to help you get healthy programs growing in your own community. We really can change the way we feed children - one plate at a time.
Community Food Security Coalition's National Farm to School Program
The Center for Food and Justice
The SchoolFood Plus Initiative was funded by the Kellogg Foundation 2004 Kellogg with a goal to improve the eating habits, health and academic performance of New York City public schoolchildren while strengthening New York State agriculture through the procurement of local, regional produce. New York City serves approximately one million meals a day, so this healthy lunch initiative has the potential to reach a large number of school children.
The Harlem Children's Zone, a charter school in New York City, features healthy foods made from scratch, utilizing as much local product as possible. This innovative program features universal meals, which means that ALL of the children are eating healthy food.
Santa Monica's Farm to School Project features a Farmer's Market Salad Bar with produce purchased entirely from local farmers' markets. The project began in one school and within four years was expanded to all 15 elementary, junior high and high schools in the Santa Monica Unified School District.
The Ross School in East Hampton, NY provides a model program for integrating wellness and healthy food choices into the school day. The guiding mission and mantra of the ROSS program is Regional, Organic, Seasonal, Sustainable.
Alice Waters' Edible Schoolyard, arguably the most famous school garden in America, showcases her passion and commitment to truly change how we feed children and teach them about food. 850 public school students learn how to grow, harvest, and prepare nutritious seasonal produce in the Edible Schoolyard's one-acre organic garden and kitchen classroom. During the 2005 Smithsonian Institute Folk Life Festival, Alice was invited to set up an Edible Schoolyard on the National Maul in DC - bringing a vision of healthier food for all children to our nation's decision-makers.
When she became Food Services Director for the Berkeley Unified School District last fall, Chef Ann began working with Alice's Edible Schoolyard to transform the food served in the district's 16 schools. -wide. Within just the first two months they were able to make changes that included serving fresh fruits and vegetables in every elementary school and serving organic produce in the High School, every day.
Slow Food USA is committed to awakening a child to the enjoyment and health benefits of quality foods and the principles of land stewardship. Through the Slow Food in Schools program, they support school gardening, cooking programs, and food and farming education in schools across the country . http://www.slowfoodusa.org
EATWISE is the acronym for a group of teens in New York City - Educated and Aware Teens Who Inspire Smart Eating (EATWISE) are a group of young people in New York City who are educating themselves and other students about how eating right can have a positive impact on their health and their entire world.
The Food Project in Boston was started in 1991 to, " grow a thoughtful and productive community of youth and adults from diverse backgrounds who work together to build a sustainable food system." Currently hundreds of teens and volunteers together produce more than a quarter million pounds of chemical free produce every yearThe Food Project model could be replicated all across the country.
A new nutrition education project being piloted in 100 New York City schools, FoodChange's CookShop® Program is designed to increase awareness and consumption of wholesome foods in the school community, and improve the health and well-being of the school-going population.
Spoons Across America, presented by the highly-regarded James Beard Foundation, is a source for children's culinary education, providing and supporting food and nutrition education to children, families, and teachers through classroom, after-school, and community-based programs.
Thanks to community, teacher and parent input, advocacy and local organizing, and a growing public recognition that the consumption of sugary, caffeinated soft drinks are detrimental to health and learning, the Los Angeles Unified School District Board unanimously voted to ban soft drinks in all district schools beginning January 2004.
The Texas Department of Agriculture implemented a strict wellness/nutrition policy in August 2004 which limits or eliminates foods of minimal nutritional value and helps to promote healthy eating among all grade levels.
The New Jersey Department of Agriculture went even further than Texas, implementing regulations to virtually expel junk food and soft drinks from public elementary schools. 17 states are in various stages of considering and/or adopting school nutrition guidelines which curb the sale or serving of foods during the school day that are high in fat and sugar
The Center for Ecoliteracy has spent millions of hours of time and a fair amount of money working to support positive changes in school food. The Center was a prime motivator in Berkeley's Nutrition Policy, one of the most novel policies in the country. They provide tremendous resources through their Rethinking School Lunch website.
Rethinking School Lunch: http://www.ecoliteracy.org/programs/rsl.html
Model Wellness Policy Guide: http://www.ecoliteracy.org/programs/wellness_policy.html
For information on how to support school gardening in your community, visit the National Gardening Association's Adopt a School Garden Program
Chef Ann and Lisa Holmes eye the nutritional decline of America's school cafeterias, then turn things upside-down.
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