Childhood obesity and school nutrition are hot topics these days. I have been a proponent of changing cafeteria food being offered in schools ever since I began my own awareness of its shortcomings after viewing the movies Food Inc. and Two Angry Moms. The first movie exposed the sorry state of our national food industry and the second inspired in me the desire to make some changes at a local level.

What can YOU do to help the cause? I’m glad that you asked!

1. Get educated! Watch the movies listed above, really look at the menus being offered to your kids in school cafeterias and restaurants, read the book Free for All: Fixing School Food in America.

2. Eat lunch with your child in the fall in the school cafeteria. Actually buy the lunch. Decide whether the food served was nutritious, fresh and enticing to eat. Notice the waste. What is being thrown away? What are the kids drinking? Are whole fruits being tossed out? Does your school’s kitchen have actual pots, pans, cooking utensils or ovens? Does your child’s school offer knives? Do kids have access to lunch food extras such as ice-cream, cookies and chips ?

When I started to really pay attention to what my kids were eating at school and how they were eating at school, it really opened my eyes. Why do my kids use their fingers to push food onto their forks? Maybe because at school they don’t have knives to reinforce proper knife use. I began to notice that much of the lunch time food options were all “side of the highway” finger junk food. The cafeteria claims not to fry anything, but the processed food often already comes pre-fried so the schools just need to reheat. Often whole fruit is tossed away as kids don’t have the time to eat a big piece of fruit. Research has shown that cutting up FRESH fruit and making it finger and mouth friendly makes a huge difference in consumption.

3. Check to see if the school’s health program has a nutrition segment. If so, does it carry over into the cafeteria? Who teaches the curriculum and can you work with them to make changes in the cafeteria? Can you implement the same program ideas at home?

Our school district uses a program called GO, SLOW, WHOA! The nurses teach this nutrition curriculum stressing what types of food you can eat anytime like fruit and vegetables, what food you can eat but with less frequency and what food is a special treat and should not be eaten more than once or twice a week. We are trying to link the program to what the kids eat and see in the cafeteria. Children can see the dual messages and it is confusing. Creating an awareness is the first step. Once a parent or child is aware of the system, then they can decide what should be bought that week. The world is full of choices. We need to teach our kids how to live in this world of choices.

4. Say no to corn syrup and trans fats. Start to read labels and have your kids read them too. There are many great substitutes for regularly eaten food that are healthier. You do not need to eliminate chips, cookies and ketchup from your child’s diet but switch to a brand that has natural ingredients and no corn syrup or trans fats.

The government’s new focus on childhood obesity and nutrition makes it the perfect time as parents to make our voices heard. Take a step to help kids stay healthy. Now is the time.

Links of interest:

Nourishing Thoughts

Farm to School Program Changes Kids’ Views on Food

Healthy Schools Campaign

Action For Healthy Kids

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