Mystery meat, white bread galore, ketchup as a vegetable. To say that the school lunch program has come under fire over the years is an understatement. It's no surprise that many moms doubt whether their kids can get a healthy meal at school. As a former school lunch manager, I realize there is no easy fix. That's why I went to hear what the experts at the Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids Leadership Summit at the Culinary Institute of America in San Antonio are proposing. Change is coming, but we all need to be part of the solution. Here's what you can do.
- Educate yourself about your school's food-service program by checking the district's or school's website. For details about the federal National School Lunch Program, go to www.fns.usda.gov/cnd/lunch/and click on Program Fact Sheet. Visit healthykids.ciachef.edu/ for resources, interactive tools and doable advice for assisting your school in implementing positive changes in the lunchroom.
- Learn some of the easy ways to get your kid's cafeteria to offer fresh, made-from-scratch meals. Thelunchbox.org is a free online tool kit that shows how schools across the country do it in a cost-effective manner. Created through Renegade Lunch Lady chef Ann Cooper's F3 (Food, Family and Farming) Foundation, the site has a slew of resources, recipes and a very positive vibe.
- Emphasize activity along with food choices. Fuel Up to Play, fueluptoplay60.com, an in-school program sponsored by the National Dairy Council, encourages a one-two punch of good nutrition and at least 60 minutes of daily physical activity. Thanks to student ambassadors helping spread the word, this program reaches two-thirds of the schools in the U.S.
- Encourage your child's school to apply for a free salad bar through SaladBars2Schools.org. Ideally, fruits and vegetables should fill half of your kid's plate, so having fresh produce available on the lunch line is key.
- Get involved with the National Farm to School Network, farmtoschool.org, which helps bring local foods into the cafeteria. The organization also provides hands-on educational opportunities, such as garden planting, cooking demonstrations and farm tours, so kids know where their food comes from.
Is your school doing a great job on the lunch front? Visit familycircle.com/lunchroom to tell us how, and the story could be in an upcoming issue.
Originally published in the October 1, 2011, issue of Family Circle magazine.