SF-Based Nourish Helps Parents Unpack School Lunch Programs

Tara Duggan | The Bay Citizen | April 18, 2011

Bay CitizenLast Friday, my daughter’s third-grade teacher cornered me at the end of the day. He wanted to meet with the school’s PTA to talk about ways to increase the quality of food at the school, from what’s available in the cafeteria to snacks, which parents typically take turns supplying for each classroom.

“They are getting so many mixed messages,” he said. The students are told to eat whole grains and fruits and vegetables, yet the food at the school often doesn’t conform to those guidelines.”

I agree completely but I honestly didn’t know where to start. The San Francisco Unified School District, where my children are enrolled, has made some improvements to its school lunch program, but it has a long way to go. Our school has no kitchen, just a large steamer to keep warm prepacked lunches. (My girls chose not to eat these lunches.) While the school does have standards for parent-provided snacks, they’re not always followed, and it can be a hard thing to enforce.

As it happens, Nourish, which launched last week, might have some answers. The San Francisco-based organization offers free curriculum and DVDs to help students form an awareness of the sources of their food. Rather than tackle districts’ school lunch policy and funding issues head-on — a larger problem than the small nonprofit can take on — it aims to “start a conversation about food,” said spokesperson Brie Mazurek. “It’s getting youth and educators interested so that then they can start to create a change.”

Nourish’s curriculum is aimed toward middle school children, though the organization is trying to secure funding to develop curriculum for older elementary school children and high school students. Its film, which is available for free for California teachers, appeals to younger children too, said Mazurek, with its interviews from middle school and high school students. It also features local food experts such as author Michael Pollan, chef Bryant Terry and farmer Nigel Walker.

The curriculum, which was developed by Berkeley’s Center for Ecoliteracy, is based on national academic standards, so that teachers can easily tie it into their teaching, and there’s a version on the web site specifically correlated with California’s standards. (It’s a free download on the web site.) In one activity, students create a questionnaire to talk about how they can improve the quality of the food in their school’s cafeteria. In another project, kids learn how to analyze food advertisements.

When it comes to actually trying to change the food in the cafeteria, the Center for Ecoliteracy has a guide for that, too. The next time I talk to my daughter’s teacher about food, I feel like I have a lot more to work with.

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