Since the school year began last month, I’ve been watching and listening with some bemusement to the furor over the new school lunch standards in this country. Kids and parents are Tweeting and Instagramming (is that a verb?) pictures of some pretty unappetizing fare.
Well, I can afford to be amused because I don’t have kids depending on the public school system for a healthy and satisfying lunch.
But childhood obesity—which leads to adult chronic disease—is not funny. And while having a nutritious lunch is important, kids really need to be taught how to make healthy food choices. It’s not a skill learned overnight, but it’s one that can make a huge difference to their future health. And as kids learn by example, they need the adults in their lives to be on the same page!
Related post: Teach your children well
I recently picked up a copy of Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children by Ann Cooper. Cooper, a chef, pioneered a healthy (and delicious) school lunch program that has been successfully implemented by schools in several states, although the schools are mostly private.
Her school lunch policy is founded on the following principles:
- Healthy children are the foundation of a healthy society;
- Healthy, well-nourished children are better able to learn;
- All children deserve nutritious, safe, and deliciously-prepared food;
- Eating habits developed in childhood will affect health throughout life;
- Knowledge of food—how it is grown, who grows it, how it is prepared, its connection to tradition, and its influence in shaping the future of society—is integral to a healthy education.
Watch Chef Cooper’s passionate explanation of the problem, as well as her philosophy and plan (I love Ted Talks!):
What parents can do
Lunch Lessons is part cookbook, part policy handbook, and part parenting manual. Chef Cooper includes dozens of healthy and kid-approved recipes. The last part of the book guides parents and school officials through implementing her lunch program, or creating their own.
What I like most is the first part of the book, which provides parents with tips for nurturing healthy eaters—kids who will hopefully learn to enjoy eating and preparing healthy food when they are older and no longer under parental (or school) supervision.
- Be a good role model;
- Take your kids shopping—allow them to explore the store and ask questions;
- Be flexible—it’s all about balance and moderation;
- Make mealtime special;
- Don’t be a short order cook and be patient—it can take 10-12 attempts to get a kid to try an unfamiliar food;
- Don’t buy into marketing for kids—bright blue applesauce is just wrong!;
- Don’t use food as a reward, bribe, or a punishment;
- Let kids help in the kitchen—kids love eating food they create;
- Make sure your child eats breakfast.
The book was written in 2006, although its material is still very relevant today. Given the current uproar, I’m sure parents, school districts and the federal government will be making more changes to the school lunch program, perhaps taking some lunch lessons from Chef Cooper.
You can also visit her website, Lunch Lessons.