A shocking one in three children in the United States are overweight or obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. And this epidemic of obesity among youth not only predisposes them to diabetes and other diseases, but these problems don’t go away once they’re adults. Unhealthy and fat kids become unhealthy and fat adults.
According to the Center for Science in the Public Interest, 75 percent of beverage options and 85 percent of snacks are of poor nutritional quality in both middle and high schools in the U.S. Students have limited access to nutritious options and many end up consuming sugary beverages and high-sodium, high-fat meals.
But schools and parents are finding ways to fight this epidemic through better school lunch programs, better nutrition education, and through making kids excited about eating healthful, nutritious—and environmentally sustainable—foods.
The Chicago Public Charter School, Academy for Global Citizenship (AGC), has a mission to foster environmental stewardship among students and has incorporated lessons about healthy eating and gardening into their curriculum. Dan Schnitzer, Director of Sustainability and Operations at AGC, recognizes the need to provide students with better food options. “There is not too much easy access to organic food around here,” says Schnitzer. “The school is located in a food desert, a low-income urban area where processed foods reign. We want to create a mind shift in the generations.”
In addition, the Kitchen Community is working to educate students and bring fresh produce to schools. By installing Learning Gardens at 16 different city schools, they’re teaching students about planting and natural food, and also how to incorporate the vegetables they produce in their own garden into school cafeteria menus. Mayor Rahm Emmanuel has granted $1 million of the funding towards the Kitchen Community’s initiative to build sixty more Learning Gardens in Chicago schools.
School food change isn’t only taking place in Chicago. The movement has spread across the U.S. and the world. The Center for Ecoliteracy created a planning framework, Rethinking School Lunch, which identifies 10 ways administrators and parents can improve food options in schools, including a downloadable school lunch guide. And The Lunch Box is an online toolkit, including recipes, tutorial videos, a list of helpful resources, and technical tools for bringing better food to schools.
And the World Food Programme feeds more than 20 million children in schools in Africa, and simultaneously provides an extra incentive for parents to send their children to school because they know they'll get at least one meal. Project DISC (Developing Innovations in School Cultivation) helps primary school students in Uganda grow their own produce, providing children with an education in agriculture as well as nutrition.
Slow Food’s European Schools for Healthy Food has brought together a coalition of schools across Europe to promote consumption of healthy food in schools by working with educators, parents, and the private and public bodies in charge of education policy – all via a social networking website which allows these groups to update and share their progress.
What are other ways to bring better food to schools in Chicago and around the world?