vegetables, Image from Morguefile

Nutrition Education: Another Key to Healthy School Lunches

For years, Americans have been hearing about the rising rate of obesity in the country.   Books and movies like Fast Food Nation (2001) and Super Size Me (2004) have warned against the harm of eating an unhealthy diet based mostly in convenience foods.   But even with all of this cautioning, only when First Lady Michelle Obama’s introduced the Let’s Move initiative in February of 2010 did the message really begin to make an impact on both parents and schools.   Due to this new take on feeding children a more nutritious diet, many cafeterias have begun providing healthier options for students with a large focus on following the newly introduced MyPlate nutrition guide.  While this turn for the wholesome in the lunch room has been a step in the right direction, it seems to be apparent that there is still something missing in the equation as much of the healthier choices are being wasted or overlooked.  So what is the key to getting children to eat their vegetables?  While parents have been wondering this for years, recently teachers, cafeteria workers and even chefs have begun discovering what might just be the key to solving the mystery.

One huge push coming from everyone from Mrs. Obama to Chef Jamie Oliver is that of educating children on what they eat while involving them in the process of how it comes to be.   A big reason for the average child’s aversion to eating healthier items could be that they simply don’t know what it is.  Chef Oliver found out the hard way that currently children aren’t getting the food education that they need as a base to grow as health eaters.

The answer to this problem could be as simple teaching students about the different foods available.  In today’s society with schools being required to tighten budgets and raise scores on standardized tests, many nutrition programs have disappeared.   However, several institutions aren’t giving up and instead have found new ways to both educate and involve their students while incorporating nutrition in the daily curriculum.

file00067364915In an article from Natural Vitality Kids, one example of food and education was discovered at Abernethy Elementary School in Portland, Oregon.  The school has a garden classroom and a “harvest of the month program” that allows students to get first-hand experience on various levels with a particular crop each month.  While a local farm provides the crop to serve in the cafeterias, the students also grow it in the school’s garden and learn about it in the classroom.

The nutrition education program has been taken a step further at the Metropolitan Expeditionary Learning School in New York.   At this school for 6th through 12th graders, they recently took on the topic of food, because as Principal Damon McCord told Serious Eats, “Food is a great lens through which to look at history, nutrition and science.”  For six-weeks, students learned about nutrition by doing things like studying crops around the world in Social Studies, learning about the growing process and diseases caused by food in Science, reading and writing about industrial meat production in English and even starting their own community garden.   The school’s goal is for students to learn about topics covered in standardized testing while at the same time providing them with nutritional information that can be carried on with them into the real world.

A final move for educating students about nutrition is the national movement Chefs Move to School (part of the Let’s Move! Campaign), run by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.   This program helps schools partner with local chefs to help their schools meet dietary guidelines and budgets and at the same time educate students on nutrition and healthy choices.  According to My West Hartford Life, three charter schools in West Hartford, Connecticut are currently testing this program out with a fair amount of success among students.   In this case, while students are already currently learning about food as part of their curriculum, it seems the cafeteria staff is receiving more of an educational benefit from the program.  Local chef Hunter Morgan has come in to teach cafeteria staff members how to make meals that are healthy in all aspects, like spinach lasagna and broccoli, in order to provide them with the skills and recipes it will take to keep the healthy food coming once he goes back to his usual job as executive chef of local restaurant Max Downtown.

While not every school has the money and resources to do a complete overhaul like many of these schools have, there are still plenty of ways to help bring nutrition education in at some level.  Check out low-cost educational programs like Veggiecation or research grants and resources at The Lunch Box for more information on improving or building a program at your school.

What does your school do to educate about food and nutrition?  Please share your comments below. 

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