Tag Archives: school garden

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. 

Image from MorgueFile

Growing Healthier Students through School Gardens

Image from MorgueFileOften the options offered for school lunch are either less than appetizing or not very healthy.  The alternative to these selections is to provide meals plentiful in fruits, vegetables and other healthy and creative items.  Most parents, school board members and others would be quick to choose the second option to make ensure school-age children are full of energy and to avoid looming issues like obesity.   However, it’s not always quite that easy.  Frequently, when schools switch over to these nutritious offerings, students end up tossing more than they eat.  There’s also the increased expense of providing fresh, unprocessed food.   What can be done to solve this dilemma?  Many, including First Lady Michelle Obama who is currently writing a book about her White House Kitchen Garden, believe gardens could be the answer.

You may be wondering, other than just providing vegetables, what is the point of having a school garden.   Many sources say that the biggest benefit is the connection between the food and what is actually happening in the garden.  According to Sallie Marston, professor in the School of Geography and Development and co-manager of the University of Arizona’s school garden program,  “These children are physically involved in the garden in ways that teach them all kinds of stuff about soil, water, the hydrological cycle, pest control, intermixing plant varieties – you name it.”

This type of opportunity also allows teachers, parents and volunteers to open up student’s eyes to what they are eating and gives an opening to educate them on new items, as simple as fresh spinach or different varieties of tomatoes.   Karol Fink a dietitian with the Alaska Department of Health told the Anchorage Daily News, “Because of economics, of family practices or culture, some students have just not been exposed to healthy foods. Trying food from an early age is key.”   Many times, this exposure becomes the responsibility of the school and school gardens provide a perfect chance for the healthy foods to become more commonplace.

By teaching lessons in the garden about what certain foods are, as well as giving the opportunity to take a taste test, students may just discover that what they’ve refused to try at lunch may just not be so bad after all.  In an article in the Pueblo Chieftain, it says “According to the California School Garden Network, studies have shown that “garden-based” nutrition education can significantly increase children’s consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables along with their understanding of food and its relationship to their health.”

This should solve the entire lunch conundrum.  These gardens provide students not only with education and an opportunity to expand their culinary horizons, but also with a great, extremely fresh source to supply their cafeterias.  But it’s not that simple.

One of the biggest issues facing school gardens is that many schools are not currently allowed to use the food grown in school gardens in their own cafeteria.  To combat this in Hawaii, Rep. Jessica Wooley (D, Laie-Kahaluu), has introduced House Bill 198.  This bill would allow school grown vegetation to be used in cafeterias if the garden is first inspected and certified by the Department of Agriculture.  However, this solution still poses an issue considering the amount of time the inspection and certification take and currently, the bill has not been scheduled for a hearing.  Similarly, in Chicago guidelines prevent school consumption of food from their gardens because they don’t currently use “commercially prepared organic compost and fertilizers,” said Bob Bloomer, regional vice president of Chartwells-Thompson, in an article in the Chicago Tribune.

While school gardens may not always work in all ways or solve all of the issues posed today in school nutrition, it is still important to remember that ideas like this can put school-aged children on the right track to leading a healthier lifestyle.  Each step, whether it’s getting students to try a new healthy food at lunch or cultivating a garden that could feed the entire school, is one in the right direction.  One great thought on this comes from Dexter Kishida, school food coordinator in Hawaii.  Kishida told the Honolulu Star Advertiser about their gardens, saying, “This is not about raising farmers. It’s about raising eaters who understand what it takes to get that (food) to the table.”

For more information on starting your own school garden, check out KidsGardending.org or talk to your local school board.