With childhood obesity a national epidemic, and children eating way too many empty calories, maybe it’s time to see what your children are really eating at lunch time. While packed lunches have gone by the wayside for many, school cafeterias, vending machines, and fast food items have stepped in to fill the gap, and doing so in a way that is not always in your child’s best interest. This week, October 10-14, marks National School Lunch Week, and it is the perfect opportunity for you to find out what is being served at your local school.
School lunches are notoriously bad. Mystery meat, fake cheese, and a lack of fresh fruit and vegetables are only part of the problem; with high-calorie sodas and vending machine options increasing the calorie intake of our children, the whole system is feeding our children in a way that is nutritionally inferior.
Take the time to understand the offerings at your child’s school and make a point to talk directly to your child about what choices they should be making—and why. Better yet, get involved in the school lunch program, PTA, or local school board to work proactively on bringing healthier options to our children. You don’t have to be a heavy hitter to make change and voice your opinion, although those celebrities already on that bandwagon are certainly helping the cause.
Alice Waters fought to institute her Edible Schoolyard in Berkeley, California, something that other schools across the nation are trying to replicate. Jamie Oliver has also been active in this arena, both across the pond and here in the U.S. In fact, his reality television show, “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution,“ allowed us to glimpse into school cafeterias in Huntington, West Virginia and Los Angeles, California. And boy, was that an eye-opener.
The First Lady has also worked to improve school lunch programs, enlisting 900 of the country’s chefs to bring their culinary talents into schools in their communities in a program called “Chefs Move to Schools.” She hopes to triple that number by the end of 2011.
In addition to the celebrity spotlight, states, counties and cities have to work to make public policy change, much like that in California. The state has banned fast food and soda dispensers on many campuses, and has a public awareness campaign on the dangers of obesity. This has caused the childhood obesity rates to fall in the state, something that needs to happen across the nation.
So take this week to educate yourself on the school lunch program or make an attempt to pack a lunch for your child(ren), even if only once or twice a week. The effort will benefit us all.