Changing the Future of School Food: Jesse Ruiz, Chair, Illinois State Board of Education

May 26, 2009 | Written By:


One of the reasons that healthy school food is so important is because, very simply, it helps students learn. Schools have every reason to provide meals that give students the energy they need to study and the nutrition they need to focus on their schoolwork.

In the national dialogue about healthy school food, we often hear from leaders in the culinary world, from advocates for health, from champions of sustainability.  As we consider these voices, it is important to also take a moment to consider the voices of the teachers, principals and school leaders around the US who explain why healthy meals are important to their work of educating tomorrow’s leaders. That’s why it was so significant to hear Jesse Ruiz, Chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, lend his voice to the call for more resources for healthier school food, particularly in light of the health disparities facing Latino communities in Chicago and beyond. Ruiz spoke at HSC’s May 5 briefing in Washington, DC:

As chair of the Illinois state board of education, I have a comprehensive view of the education system and all of the factors that contribute to the state and school districts’ ability to educate children, preparing them for productive lives.  And nothing is more fundamental than a student’s health. While in school, students need to be properly nourished to learn and they need to learn about healthy lifestyles so that our goal of creating productive citizens of tomorrow can be realized. I am here to lend my support for increased funding for better food, an essential aspect of promoting children’s health and ensuring that they are more ready to learn. I think it is fitting that this event is taking place on Cinco de Mayo, recognizing the outstanding achievement of these students from Richards Career Academy, who have created this wonderful Mexican themed meal. The lack of access to healthy food is a problem in minority communities. In Chicago, in some Latino communities the rate of childhood obesity is more than 60 percent, three times the national average. I thank the Healthy Schools Campaign for bringing this issue, so important to the Latino community, to national attention.

This briefing is part of HSC’s efforts to change the future of school food by speaking up for a strong, well-funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

After bringing Ruiz, high school student chefs and other Illinois leaders to DC for this event, we’re meeting this week in Chicago with national leaders – including Janey Thornton, Ph.D., SNS, Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition & Consumer Services at the USDA – about the importance of healthy school food in light of the tremendous health disparities facing students in so many urban Latino and African-American communities.

You can lend your voice to this effort by sending a letter in support of healthy school meals and an adequately funded reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act.

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