School Food: We Need to Be the Adults

October 07, 2015 | Written By:

We were disheartened when we read the “Why Students Hate School Lunch” article in The New York Times over the weekend. The article starts by saying “school districts nationwide say that their trash cans are overflowing while their cash register receipts are diminishing,” which is—at best—a sweeping generalization.

Many of our friends have already pointed out the numerous and specific factual errors and generalizations featured in this article, so we won’t repeat those here. (For a great point-by-point response, please check out this post from The Lunch Tray.) And many school food advocates—including Katie Wilson,  the Deputy Under Secretary for Food, Nutrition, and Consumer Services at the USDA; Sandra Hassink, the President of the American Academy of Pediatrics; and Toni Liquori, the executive director of School Food FOCUS—wrote letters to the editor explaining their positions.

Instead, we’ll focus on a concept so simple that it often gets overlooked in the debate about school food.

We all agree that the food being served to the more than 30 million students in our public school system is healthier. No one is arguing that it’s not. What people are arguing about is whether or not students want to eat this healthier food. Will students used to eating greasy and salty French fries everyday turn up their noses at steamed broccoli the first time it appears on their lunch trays? Quite possibly.

What that argument seems to forget is that we are the adults in the room. We need to make sure that students are getting healthy, nutritious food that ensures they are ready to be the best learners they can be. We need to educate students not just about writing and arithmetic, but about how to make good choices.

This is a point made by Katie Wilson. “Schools are the place to educate children about food and health,” Wilson says. “Kids in the 8th grade don’t want to learn algebra, but we don’t quit teaching it.”

The Times article also said that it’s hard to changes kids’ food preferences if they’ve been used to eating something different. And that’s true. But that doesn’t mean it isn’t worth the extra effort to ensure that our children are eating the healthiest food they can.

This is hard work, but we’ve made great progress. The latest figures from the USDA show that 95 percent of schools are meeting these new standards. A study from researchers at Harvard University found children are eating more fruits and vegetables and wasting less food since the new standards were implemented. And a recent poll from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation found that 86 percent of Americans support the current school nutrition standards.

This isn’t the time to back down and give in to those who would see the progress we’ve made rolled back as science-based nutritional guidelines are weakened. This is the time to double-down and make your voice heard.

Healthy Schools Campaign stands for healthy school food, and we’re asking you to stand with us. We’ve made it easy for you to send a letter to your Congressional representatives by simply entering your ZIP code via the following link. You can use or revise the templated letter that we’ve created, or write your own. Start your letter here.

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