4.17.2010

Food Fight?

This is in response to a long thread on the local Momslikeme about Jamie Oliver and his food revolution.

...Food is Elementary is not at Byck. It was/is a grant program and was made available to a limited number of schools (there was only funding for so many schools, so while many may have applied, only a few could be choosen). Byck has TAP (Tap into Fitness), which is to provide similar information along with wellness initiatives (increasing physical activity etc). Jennifer Rubenstein was the local contact for FIE, and she also ran the VERB program here in Louisville this past summer. Food is elementary is part of Dr. Antonia Demas program. There were three main focuses: 1. Through the introduction Dr Demas' dynamic curriculum Food is Elementary into schools and communities 2. by revolutionizing and improving the school lunch program and 3. by promoting community outreach and helping parents support their children's healthy food choices. I haven't heard much follow up on this (and many other programs) so I don't know, and would love to know, if this is working. I haven't seen the results yet from this initiative. And our culture and financing of these types of programs is based on data. So, the thinking is, prove that these worked, there will be more money to go to more schools, to prove that more work, more funding, more schools... These programs also relied on a large volunteer effort to bring in and prep the fresh foods that were served to the children. No volunteer base, no program.

For a specific look at JCPS you should read http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/Pubs/Nutrition/NutritionNews.pdf as well as go to http://www.jefferson.k12.ky.us/departments/nutritionservices/index.html. The pdf lists all the various wellness/nutrition programs in the schools (including TAP).

Part of the difficulty this program, and others geared toward revolutionizing and improving the slp is this: FUNDING.

Currently in Louisville we have a huge free/reduced lunch population, which makes sense since we have 98,000 students and are an urban school district. Go to http://nhs.ky.gov/octdataout/09-10QualifyingData.xls and you can see the percentages of free and reduced lunches at our schools. For example, Byck has 466 students out of 581 receiving a free/reduced meal. That is a combined percentage of 81%. Atkinson elementary? 412 out of 435, for a percentage of 95%. Whereas Anchorage, 9 out of 370, that's 2%. Saint Matthews? 182 out of 595 enrolled for 31%. JCPS Nutrition Services serves more than 59,000 lunches and more than 25,000 breakfasts each day. That's roughly half of the student population eating a meal from the school cafeteria.

About 31.3 million school children A DAY across the United States participate in NSLP, which served 5.2 BILLION meals in 2009. Studies show that actually these children are more likely to eat healthier foods than the students who don't participate in the program. Walk into any cafeteria at lunch and you'll find...a LUNCHABLE in a child's sack. What's in a lunchable? processed crackers, meat, cheese, fruit punch, and candy. So sure, we are "packing lunches" but they aren't necessarily nutritious are they? So to get kids to eat healthy we need to double school food funding. Get more kids involved in FIE or TAP or VERB or gardening...which means, again, more FUNDING! Right now the federal govt. reimburses schools $2.68 for lunch and $1.46 for breakfast. They only are reimbursed for what they actually serve. So some kids who should be getting breakfast and lunch...don't. Right now the Child Nutrition Act which is going before the Senate will increase this funding by...6 CENTS PER MEAL. That doesn't mean you shouldn't call Senator McConnell (part of the Agriculture Cmte) and urge him to urge his colleagues to move forward with this re-auth, it just means that we have to understand that we also need to change the thinking of an entire nation when it comes to food.

Our school meals must meet two sets of standards: provide a minimum amount of proteins, minerals, vitamins and calories and a maximum of 30% of calories from fat and 10% saturated fat. These standards were set in WWII and the 1980s. They are woefully outdated. While the current re-auth will address this to some extent, it is actually not addressing it in the manner in which several advocate groups (including PTA) have requested.

There are also specific wellness policies in place, and what the PTA and our schools need are dedicated parents as partners to see that these policies are followed. For example, if the policy is no cupcakes and voila, there are cupcakes at a class party, it is violating policy. For many, we just don't tell. We tell our kids "no cupcake" but we don't remind the parent because we don't want to look like a spoil sport. After all, what's one cupcake? But how many parties happen in a year, especially at the elementary school level? That's a lot of cupcakes. So really, if we want a School Lunch Revolution, it should also be a school snack revolution, a teacher's lounge revolution, a field day food served revolution, a literacy night food revolution, because these are all the places where we can lead by example. We don't have to have pizza at every school party or event. But if we do, go for the healthier options. Teachers shouldn't give candy out as a reward. So help by donating a gently used book or toy to the class treasure chest.

Bottom line, it isn't just about the school lunches, it is about our school culture and society. IF you pack a lunch, make it a healthy one, not a lunchable or some other processed packaged food. IF you help at a class party, bring apple slices instead of carmel apples. Partner with your school, not villify it. Ask them to join the revolution with you, and if they ask why, tell them it's for Finn, Jonah and Seth. For the future health and wellbeing of our nation. Because it's time.

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