I don’t know who’s happier that school’s back in session, me or my kids. Some days it felt like the longest short summer ever. But now, we’re back in the groove and I’m adjusting to the rhythm of having twins in high school. I know — I’ve been warned. Thankfully I’ve always been pretty good with routine, even if it doesn’t always make me very popular at 6:00 AM. The moment I see the opening of one sleepy teenage eye, my first question is “whad’ya want for breakfast?” Imagine how that goes over.
But, I’ll bet those of you like me who have kids are asking that same question and making sure they’ve eaten something before heading off to the bus. Why? Because this is what you know. When kids are fueled up with healthy, delicious foods they are fired up to learn.
Here’s something we at Real Food for Kids know. School meals — when done right — fire up kids to learn.
But here’s something you may not know.
School meals these days are a lot better than you’d expect. And we can take some credit for that.
- The quality of food in our school lunchrooms — after decades of decline — is improving. Every day we are blown away by the school nutrition professionals we get to work with who care as much as you do about what your kids eat every day. These are their customers and they are demanding. The response has been impressive. It’s just that a lot of us haven’t peeked into the cafeteria recently to see the transformation that’s been happening. If you haven’t, you should.
- School meals have a solid, balanced nutrient profile. Studies show that the meals kids get at school — in most cases — power them better than lunches sent from home. Think about it. I’m the first to admit that what goes out in my kids — brown bag isn’t always ideal.
- At the schools where kids regularly, consistently eat school meals, their attendance, concentration, grades, test scores, behavior, and physical activity all improve. The schools actually improve. This is all backed up by valid research, not just stories.
- When done right, school meals not only increase kids — fruit and vegetable consumption, they increase kids desire to consume more fruits and vegetables because they learn how delicious they are. What parent doesn’t want that?
- School meals can — and do — impact the choices our kids make outside of school walls. Done right, they can have a lasting impact on their health into adulthood. But there are still so many challenges that keep our kids from having the best school meals experience they can. And those are the challenges Real Food for Kids is working to change.
Our school systems are still grappling to understand that school meals — when done right — are an integral part of learning. When we shift that mindset, our kids can truly begin to make the connection between what they eat and how they learn. As one of our wonderful school nutrition partners likes to say, school food is an “education intervention.”
School lunch continues to be viewed as a support service to the instructional day instead of a critical component to student success (just like recess). The environment in which kids eat is less about nourishment — social, emotional and physical — than it is about hurrying on to the next academic subject. And food services staff — even though they are wonderful and love our kids — are often relegated to the sidelines of our school communities, limiting their interaction with our students to a 10-second transactional relationship.
When the culture of the lunchroom becomes integral to the culture of a school, we create an environment in which healthy relationships are organic and lifelong healthy eating behaviors are inspired and embraced.
Real Food for Kids‘ work in the Metro DC area over the last 8 years has resulted in changes to the quality of school meals served to over 250,000 kids. Now it’s time to change the environment in which they get those meals so they can be fueled up by the food and the experience, ready to learn, ready to thrive.
This fall, our funding will go directly toward work already underway to identify best practices in school meal environments and how to change perceptions so that those practices can be replicated in our schools — in your schools. Your support will go a long way to pushing that tray down the lunch line.
This post was written by Mary Porter, Director of Programs.