Too many kids are showing up at school grumpy, cranky, sleepy – the seven dwarves, times a few million – and that makes it hard to learn. Their teachers, fortunately, are a whole lot of Snow Whites. Over sixty percent of teachers in a national study by the No Kid Hungry / Share Our Strength folks reported feeding students at least once a month. In their brief youtube video, one teacher shares a kid’s comment after a field trip where all the meals were provided. “We eat so much on this trip, it’s amazing!”
That getting enough food should be amazing in a country as rich as ours is inexcusable. Fortunately there are a lot of people at least chipping away at the problem, many of them part of the No Kid Hungry Campaign. This group has focused on establishing partnerships state-to-state, providing free breakfasts for kids nationwide, in addition to summer meals and tutorials for families on healthy shopping and cooking.
Other positive developments along similar philosophical lines include:
Meet Your Farmer. Groups have sprung up nationwide, with farmers in such diverse locations as rural Maine and New York City giving kids an opportunity to connect with the people who grow their food. This often leads to field trips to actual farms, or opportunities to establish urban farms right in the neighborhood.
Youth Farm Projects. Youth involved in growing food also become involved in selling it, in youth-run stands.
Friday Food Baskets. Some schools make a point of sending food baskets home at the end of the day Friday, for the families – one more reason to make it to school on a Friday and stick around till the end! (Photo at top of blog shows Food for Lane County volunteers preparing weekend snack packs.) One community’s bank funds their program. Another program sends home Cereal Packs.
There are more than a few nay-sayers who insist kids will never switch to healthy food, but that’s not necessarily true.
It’s surely a lot harder if school cafeterias aren’t fully on board with a healthy upgrade, but many truly are, run by people who care. In fact, there are so many people doing so much good around the food issue, it’s hard to pick a top ten, for fear of leaving out other worthy contributors, but one shining star is the passionate and eloquent “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper, the inspirational head of nutrition for the Berkeley California Unified School District.
Ann’s brimming over with good advice, such as:
–recess before lunch and kids are less likely to skimp on lunch in order to go out and play, or
–move school lunches out from under the USDA and into the CDC, in order to boost its profile as a health issue.
Ann posts a host of goodies on her website, ChefAnn.com, ranging from recipes to resources, all promoting local, sustainable, healthy food. She also helps with Jamie Oliver’s transformational TheLunchBox.org, which nurtures schools into healthier eating, and Whole Foods Great American Salad Project (GASP), which aims to introduce fresh salad bars to hundreds of schools nationwide. If that’s not enough, check out some of her books, including Bitter Harvest, and Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children.
You can also see her in action in the video clip below. I promise, it’s good for you. But be forewarned: it’s a lot to digest!