What lessons do we teach our kids in the cafeteria?

11 Apr

We tell our kids to go to school to learn. And they do. Even in the cafeteria.

In a TED talk a few years ago, renegade lunch lady, Ann Cooper made an impassioned appeal for attention to the lessons we actively and passively teach our kids every day in the school cafeteria. Cooper, the director of nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District, is on a mission. When she was hired only two years ago, she had 90 employees and no one knew how to cook. How is this possible? Literally everything served in the school cafeteria came packaged in plastic, a can, or frozen. Burritos, pastries, canned fruit medley, peculiar dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets.

Salad Bar Revolution

Cooper shifted the entire paradigm. Instead of cheap, pre-packaged, processed and frozen foods, Cooper set out to teach kids the value of eating regional foods that are organic, sustainable, and fresh.

This meant eliminating all foods containing high fructose corn syrup, using organic produce, and cooking everything–yes, everything–from scratch. But a shift in thinking about food requires more than just changing the menu. So she instituted cooking classes in all the schools in the district to give the kids hands-on experience cooking and preparing these foods for themselves to support academic classroom curriculum to tie it all together.

What inspires Cooper’s mission? This issue is not just for the schools, it is for us because, simply put, it is about us. There is a great need in most schools to change the way we teach our kids about diet and lifestyle. And when we change what we feed our kids, we start to change what kinds of foods our kids think are healthy and acceptable.

Knowing that change is possible, we also know that it doesn’t happen overnight. Perhaps then we should begin with small steps.

Fresh is always better!

First, a good place to start is by finding out what is served regularly in the school cafeteria. Most schools usually have a printed menu available for the week. Stay up to date on what is being served. Compare the number of items on the menu that are fresh versus the number of items that are packaged and frozen.

Second, voice your opinion to the school board or PTA. These bodies exist to support the child’s development in every way possible and this topic is definitely worth the attention and discussion.

Third, model these lessons in the home. The parent and family unit are the most significant influences on the child’s development. Model healthy eating choices in the home by feeding your kids healthy, sustainable, fresh foods that are rich in colorful vegetables and clean proteins.

And if you have already implemented other strategies for fostering healthy habits, please share that with the rest of our FIT community by posting to our comments section along with any other thoughts you may have on the topic. Happy eating!

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