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Parents play a crucial role in educating children about good food. Mother and food activist Amy Kalafa shares how parents, kids, and educators can join forces to create a school food revolution.
Why should parents be concerned about school lunch?

Amy Kalafa: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicts that this generation of American children will be the first in our nation’s history to live shorter lives than those of their parents. Childhood obesity and type 2 diabetes are at epidemic levels, with 30 percent of boys and 40 percent of girls born in the year 2000 expected to develop type 2 diabetes. The average kid eats 3,000 school meals between kindergarten and the twelfth grade. Even kids who bring their lunch to school often fall prey to the junk food sold in the cafeteria and vending machines. Our schools need to be part of the solution, not the problem.

What role do schools play in teaching healthy eating practices?

Amy Kalafa: Most schools teach kids about good nutrition in health class but don’t practice what they preach at lunchtime. Kids are smart, and those lessons are ineffective if the message isn’t consistent. In districts that take a holistic approach to food education, the cafeteria is integrated with the curriculum and students get connected to their food by growing organic produce in school gardens and classrooms; taking field trips to farms, markets, restaurants, and community gardens; and preparing and tasting meals made from fresh, whole, sustainably farmed ingredients.

What are some first steps for parents who want to organize for better food?

  • Have lunch with your child in the school cafeteria. Understand the strengths and weaknesses of your school’s lunch program by experiencing the food your kids are eating at school every day. Ask to see ingredient lists for all the food on the menu.
  • Join a committee or coalition. Get involved with the nutrition committee in your school or wellness committee in your district. Create one if none exist. Survey your district to find out how many other parents, students, teachers, and staff share your concerns about school food. Write or update a district wellness policy that specifies your needs.
  • Advertise. Some kids are afraid of fresh food. When positive changes are made in your district, work with sports teams and student leaders to get “buy-in” from your entire community. It’s not healthy if the kids don’t eat it!
  • Teach food. Create and participate in school gardening and cooking classes that produce real food. Hold “tastings.” Make it fun, and help kids learn that it’s cool to eat good food. Teach media literacy so that kids learn how to see through junk food advertising.
  • Remember, it’s not just about what’s in the food. You can advocate for a better school food environment in many ways. Does the school cafeteria recycle paper and cardboard waste, or reuse lunch trays? As much as 50 percent of school food ends up in the trash. Is leftover food composted? Do kids have enough time and space to eat their meals? What’s the noise level in the cafeteria? Is anyone helping the students make good choices? Does staff have enough training and equipment to cook from scratch?
  • Join the national movement for better food in schools. Add your name to the Two Angry Moms email list to receive updates and help grow our numbers from two to two million.
How can parents and schools work together to build food literacy?

Amy Kalafa: Parents need to let school administrators know that food literacy is an important subject. There’s a big movement now to get an organic edible garden in every school, and these projects are generally started by parent volunteers and then taken on by teachers who want to use the garden as a setting for lessons in a variety of subject areas.

Creating a food advisory council that communicates with school administrators is a good way to assist in building food literacy among staff as well as students. For example, a mom in Washington State led her school’s wellness committee to try a cooked-from-scratch menu at one school in the district. The menu was so popular that it is now being instituted district-wide obesity crisis.

How can parents educate their children to make smart food choices?

Amy Kalafa: Parents can do their job at home by making food fun and using mealtimes as an opportunity for family cooperation. Bring children to the market and teach them how to choose the ripest fruits, and let choose which vegetables are freshest and most seasonal. Watch cooking shows together. Read cookbooks, and go online and try new recipes. Grow some food at home. Get your kids connected to their food at its source.

What does the food movement mean to you?

Amy Kalafa: The food movement is about creating systems that are designed for sustainability. Nourishing our kids can go hand in hand with stewardship of the earth and a fair living for those who grow our food and provide our meals, inside or outside of school. Educating our children about food as a holistic system teaches them that each part of that system affects the others. A school food environment focused on sustainability provides students with an opportunity to learn and help create solutions to the many challenges faced by our hungry planet.

About Amy Kalafa

For over 25 years, Amy Kalafa has produced award-winning films, television programs, and magazine articles in the field of health education. She is the writer and producer of the film Two Angry Moms: Fighting for the Health of America’s Children and the author of Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health. Amy is also a holistic health and nutrition counselor and a Lyme disease consultant. She and her husband, Alex, have two daughters who have always brought their lunch to school.

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