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Children / Health

A Colorado Mom’s Connection to the Food Revolution

If you tuned into Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution on ABC this spring, you may have gotten an unfortunate glimpse of my hometown. Huntington, WV was listed by the CDC as the unhealthiest town in the country and Jamie Oliver selected the town as the place to begin his Food Revolution in the United States. His goal was to introduce healthier eating habits into an area of the country that desperately needed to change its eating habits. Huntington residents have many typical American eating habits that contribute to obesity, heart disease and diabetes, such as high calorie, high sugar, and high saturated fat diets.

(stock photo by sykospike)

One of the most horrifying parts of the show, in my opinion, was the state of the school lunches. I grew up in Huntington, and I don’t remember the school lunches looking anything what they’ve become. I remember fruit and salad regularly being part of the menu. Pizza was a rare treat. However, budget cuts and an overwhelmed infrastructure have resulted in a lunch and breakfast program that is hardly ideal. Children were gleefully consuming foods that would horrify many parents. They were eating pizza for breakfast and lunch, overly processed meats, French fries, and very little fresh fruits and vegetables. Their drinks were overly sugared, flavored milks.

The scary part is that the school lunches in West Virginia aren’t an anomaly. Those lunches meet current USDA standards for school lunches. As Jamie Oliver and others have pointed out, the nationwide school lunch system is broken and our kids aren’t getting the nutrition they need. According to the latest research, children who eat school lunches are more lightly to be overweight and less likely to eat fruits and vegetables. There are likely many factors that play into why these children’s diets are substandard, but if French fries count as a vegetable (and they do) it’s clear that the system needs to be changed.

Parents today are confronted by some pretty frightening statistics. One in three children is overweight and one in five struggles with obesity. When you look at the typical foods, like chicken nuggets and highly sugared treats that are marketed to children, it’s not hard to figure out how it’s happening. School lunches have been affected by this marketing. Children want to eat the foods they see on TV and can be resistant to trying healthier foods. It’s a hard battle for parents and I think parents and school lunch programs will need to work together to get kids to eat better.

Jared Polis, a Colorado representative, has introduced legislation called the “Healthy School Meals Act.” This act will encourage schools to include more plant based foods in school based lunch programs. It also requires schools to provide non-dairy options drink options for students. Currently, non-dairy options are only available if a student brings a note from a doctor stating that the child has an allergy. I don’t know that this act will solve all school lunch problems, but it’s certainly a step in the right direction. School lunches are going to have to get better than they are right now.

It will cost money to put this program into effect, but considering that obesity-related medical conditions cost the US billions in medical costs each year, an investment in preventative care may well be necessary. No one can really argue that fruits and vegetables aren’t good for children and we need to come up with new and creative ways to work them into children’s diets. This program will give schools financial incentives to offer children more fruits and vegetables in their breakfast and lunch programs.

You can learn more about how this legislation works here. You can voice urge Congress to support this act and find ways to get involved locally on the website.

Guest Blogger Christa Palmer is a writer and mom who is raising her two small children in Littleton, Colorado. She moved to Colorado from West Virginia in 1996. Her humor blog contains posts on food, family, and unusual people at bbqcornnuts.typepad.com.

Mile High Mamas
Author: Mile High Mamas

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4 Comments

  1. Not exactly how you want people to look at your hometown, eh?!

    Great post. I love what Jamie Oliver is doing and that people are fighting for healthier options for kids. My daughter enters first grade this year so I’ll see first-hand how my school is doing.

    Off to check out the legislation.

  2. My solution is to pack their lunches. Our school has healthy options, but there’s no guarantee my boys will choose them. They bring (and actually eat!) balanced lunches with fruits and veggies Monday through Thursday. By Thursday night I’m fried, so they indulge in pizza day on Friday at school. I’m always trying to find the balance, but it’s never as easy as it seems it should be. 🙂

  3. My daughter goes to school in Boulder Valley and the school lunch system was completely revamped there two years ago, thanks to Chef Ann Cooper. Chef Cooper has been fighting the school lunch fight for years and has made a tremendous impact on the kids. Take for example, there is only bulk white milk in the lunch room (it’s in a big dispenser like juice), so there isn’t even cup/carton waste. All HFCS, hydrogenated oils, and processed foods have been eliminated. Everyday there is a vegetarian option.

    There still is tons of work to be done, but I have faith the change is coming to all kids!

  4. Glad to hear that they revamped their lunch system. Our kids really need healthier meals because honestly, they can’t be trusted to eat healthy foods all on their own!

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