Schools need to take the initiative and feed our children nutritious meals with creativity and appetizing selections.
In 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act to focus on the twin issues of childhood obesity and hunger by increasing children’s access to good, quality meals in schools. However, when the USDA says serve more vegetables or beans, the children get bland, red kidney beans as a side or mushy, overcooked squash. It is no wonder our children don’t eat vegetables or legumes. How about a warm vegetable soup with a mix of vegetables that are cooked al dente, or a mix of vegetables that are oven-roasted with herbs as an alternative? All the funding, the standards and the guidelines won’t make a difference if our children are simply tossing the unappetizing food into the trash.
It is known that 30 million children eat a USDA–sponsored lunch and 10 million eat a USDA breakfast every day in our schools. These two meals make up two-thirds of a child’s food intake for the day and may be their healthiest meals.
In the evening many parents are running with children to participate in extra-curricular activities, and there is no time for elaborate dinners. It is imperative that school systems strive to enhance the health and nutrition of these children.
However, some cafeterias continue to sell potato chips, ice cream and pizza. Many children flock to these types of foods, purchasing double or triple the servings. Schools need to teach children the most basic fundamentals of health and nutrition just as they teach reading and math.
How do we begin to get our children to eat a healthier diet? Initiatives have already begun, with programs such as Farm to School, which supports local farms to provide locally grown foods to be used in school lunches and salad bars. The program concentrates on using taste tests on fresh fruits and vegetables. It encourages field trips to the farms, and supports school gardens.
Another program is Project Fit, which requires all teachers to take basic nutrition classes; 30 minutes of physical activity is promoted daily via physical education classes, dance parties, activity videos, or outdoor walks; and children take 20 hours of nutritional education a year. Staff sit with the children during lunch and encourage them to taste foods, educate them about what certain foods provide for the body, and supervise healthy eating choices. Lunchtime should be used as a teaching opportunity — a time for children to taste-test new fruits and vegetables in different preparations.
Children, like adults, need to be stimulated, and creative approaches need to be fostered to get children to eat a healthier diet. We as parents, nurses, teachers, community leaders and legislators need to band together to encourage a healthier America, and this begins with our children. If we are not healthy and filling our tanks with the proper nutrition, we cannot learn or excel.
Melanie Nesprido, a Southington resident, is a registered nurse and a graduate student at the University of St. Joseph’s Family APRN program.