Chefs Move to Schools!

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Something very cool happened at the White House here in Washington last Friday: About 500 chefs – yes chefs — from around the country gathered on the South Lawn to pledge their support to help kids eat better. That’s “better” as in more healthfully, but also more “tastefully!”

The Chefs Move to Schools program is a part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” program, designed to combat and reduce the rate of childhood obesity in this country. I am particularly interested in this facet of the program, as I think it is the first major recognition that how food tastes is a vitally important consideration in our ongoing efforts to get kids to eat more healthfully. And, as these chefs will tell you, kids’ palates can be broadened and trained to like and even seek out the more nutritious foods. We just have to stop feeding them so much “bad food,” which unfortunately is primarily what they get at too many schools.

If you’ve read my book, “My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Eat Everything,” you know my philosophy on this. A steady diet of “bad foods,” “kiddie foods,” or whatever you want to call them – the foods that too many children subsist on – will literally stunt a child’s palate development. How can a little one ever learn to appreciate the stronger, more sophisticated flavors that are found in, say, fresh vegetables like spinach and Brussels sprouts, if he never grows past the basic “flavors” of fat-sodium-sugar that are found in virtually all children’s foods?

Enter these chefs, who are enthusiastically marching into school districts around the US, taking a look at what is being served on an average day, and making recommendations on how the foods and flavors can be diversified and improved. Many are appalled at what they are finding: local favorite Cathal Armstrong of Restaurant Eve in Alexandria, Virginia couldn’t believe it when he discovered that reheating processed, pre-packaged foods is the definition of “cooking” in many schools, many of which lack even standard ovens in their kitchens. “What we are feeding our children is an outrage,” Armstrong said. “We should be marching with our picket signs and pitchforks in revolution.”

If you have school-aged kids and are at all concerned about the foods that they are served at school, now is the time to get involved and start that revolution in your own city or school district! The national momentum is with us on this issue. Cities and school districts that have been successful in implementing change – like in role model Berkeley, California – maintain that what it takes is a lot of direct parental outcry and activism. School administrators have too many other things to be concerned about, and are stymied with budget limitations at every turn. They have to hear from us – the parents and the students – that food choice and selection must be a top concern. I predict that if you start talking to other parents – like I recently did at my own kindergartener’s school – you will find a lot of supporters who no longer want to remain silent.

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4 Responses to “Chefs Move to Schools!”

  1. Precious Says:

    This is a most useful cotiinbutron to the debate

  2. Antonia Malchik Says:

    My son’s day care requires parents to provide their kids’ lunches. I thought it was a pain at first — actually, it still is! — but I am happier being able to control what he eats for his 3 main meals. I also recently discovered that if I pack a snack, they’ll give that to him rather than what they have (goldfish, Ritz, etc.). I’d still prefer no snacks, but I can’t really ask them to leave him out at snacktime. Mostly packing food is difficult because I cook with a lot of nuts and it’s a nut-free school, so that limits leftovers.

    Jamie Oliver’s whole Food Revolution thing is probably going to help kick-start some parent groups into demanding better food in their schools. It ain’t easy, but it’s a lot easier than dealing with all the health problems our kids will end up with later.

  3. Nancy Piho Says:

    Ann, you are absolutely right. I have heard from many parents who concerned about not only the foods that are typically served at daycare centers, but also the frequency with which the kids eat. I have learned that in some states/ jurisdictions, day care centers are required by law to feed the children every two hours, whether they are hungry or not. Of course this leads to an abundance of cheap snack foods that can be stored easily: crackers, juice boxes, etc.

    I wrote about this issue in several blog entries about 6 weeks ago, if you’d like to check the archives. I think the only solution is for parents to be extremely vocal to the staff in letting them know exactly what they do and don’t want their kids to eat. And I agree that there needs to be more attention to this segment from all of us who are working to reform school lunch programs. Thanks for writing!

  4. Ann Dunaway Teh Says:

    I agree with you but it isn’t just schools that need to take a hard look at what they are serving but daycare centers as well. Tastes form very early, as you know, and parents need to get involved with their daycare providers and demand more from them as well. This is one group that seems to be left out of the discussion but sets the tone before many children ever enter school.

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