School Food: What Can You Do?

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It’s an issue that is front and center right now, for kids of all ages and schools of every size and description: School lunch, school breakfast, school snacking – and what, exactly, is being provided for our kids to eat during the day.

First Lady Michelle Obama may not have started this, but she certainly put the issue in the spotlight with her Let’s Move! Program, and its school food component, Chefs Move to Schools. There is a rising recognition that the choice of foods that schools provide for kids to eat makes a difference not only in how children grow and learn, but also in the message that we as adults are sending them about how we value them our country’s future leaders.

I have some first-hand experience with this. It started with the research I conducted for my book, My Two-Year-Old Eats Octopus: Raising Children Who Love to Everything,” then as a member of a local group that is actively trying to improve foods served in Washington, DC public schools. I’ve also been involved this year in working through channels at my own young children’s schools to review feeding policies there.

What have I found? That there is a lot of bureaucracy and government regulation in place that governs food choice decisions on many levels, and that some foods policies are what they are simply because no one has ever questioned them. Many of the current practices are nothing more than lingering habits, some put in place to serve good purposes at the time, but have outlived their need and effectiveness. Oh, and that there are definitely parties who have something to gain by keeping things the status quo.

I’ve learned that it’s easier to introduce changes if you’re involved with smaller schools that do not fall within the jurisdiction of a major school district, and if you’re talking primarily about the feeding of younger kids. I’ve found that plenty of other parents feel the same way that I do about the need for a more critical look at food choices, even if they are not yet speaking up, but that different families see “improvement” in different terms. Some parents are just glad to see their kids eat anything; those with a food allergy in the family have to take into account medical issues when planning their children’s meals. All of these points of view contribute to the overall situation, and must be taken into account when proposing reform.

I’ve also been delighted by the reception I’ve received by school administrators I’ve encountered when bringing up the topic of snack time, lunch time, and before and after school meal service. Granted, they have so many other educational issues to contend with, but have often been pleased to see parents taking an active stance on an issue that is important to them, and offering time and ideas for bringing about progress.

Next week, I’ll offer specific steps that you as “just a parent” can take if you want to get involved in this issue at your kids’ school. So please send me any tips or experiences to share!

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