Tag Archives: nutrition education

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. 

Central’s Week in Brief: July 15, 2011

Every Friday Central brings you stories from the week that you might have missed, but that are definitely worth a look. We’ll feature food news covering everything from the weird to the wonderful in the world of restaurants, schools, the military and more.  It’s our way to help you go into the weekend with a little extra knowledge and maybe even a project or recipe to try out!

1)      With all of the pushes on starting gardens, whether at schools, in the community or at home, you’d think any attempt at growing fresh veggies would be applauded.  However, this week a Michigan woman actually potentially faced time in jail for planting a garden because….it was in her front yard.  Apparently, the issue was the garden wasn’t considered suitable plant life for a front yard.  The woman, Julie Bass, received a warning, a ticket and then charged with a misdemeanor that could have led to up to 93 days in jail.  However, now the charge may be dropped due to a huge media backlash including a Facebook page, blog and a ton of other media attention.

2)      An opinion piece recently came out by an obesity doctor at Children’s Hospital Boston and a researcher at Harvard’s School of Public Health.   With just this info many would be hard pressed to think that this could be anything other than great advice and/or wonderful guidelines.  This isn’t exactly the case in this situation.  The piece suggested that when a child is morbidly obese, the state should put the child into foster care instead of performing surgery to make the problem go away.   This has created a huge backlash on the internet from parents, experts and everyone in between and has brought on much different, less extreme suggestions such as family nutrition education.

3)      Speaking of removing children, a restaurant outside Pittsburgh has banned children under 6.  While this isn’t exactly anything new (recently former Top Chef contestant Dale Levitsky put a similar ban at his restaurant for brunch), it has caught some flack from parents.  However, since this restaurant is on a golf facility where people with children aren’t a huge part of the daily patronage, the receipts have actually grown around 20%.

4)      On a totally opposite note, the National Restaurant Association and Healthy Dining launched the Kids LiveWell program this week.  This program has been developed to create healthier meals for children at restaurants.  Currently, 19 different national brands are participating.  In order to be a part of the program, the restaurant must have at least one full kids meal under 600 calories, one individual kids item under 200 calories, display the nutritional info on the menu and identify the healthy items on the menu.

5)      And since it’s been getting pretty hot lately (it’s been in the 90’s here pretty often this week), why not cool off with a nice cold smoothie?   Eating Rules has a very interesting flowchart to figure out how to make the perfect smoothie for both your cravings and health.  And if you’d rather go by a recipe, check out Smoothie Web which even has an iPhone app called Pocket Smoothies for your smoothie needs on the go.  Or just check out this yummy looking Mango Strawberry Banana Smoothie from their site.