Speak Up to Improve School Food!

October 22, 2007

Today we have a guest blog from HSC dietetic intern Katie Nowack.

I am a dietetic intern at Loyola University of Chicago studying to become a registered dietitian.  During my studies and work experiences, I’ve seen again and again how important it is for children to have access to healthy food.

During the dietetic internship, I’ve been working with a variety of people in many different settings.  Just two weeks ago, I spent time at a Chicago Public School discussing the importance of nutrition and explaining the dietary guidelines to high school students.  I’d previously attended  this school’s “lunch bunch,” a program that provides a healthy lunch and nutrition education to the students.

Last week and this week, I’ve had the pleasure of working with the Healthy Schools Campaign (HSC).  At HSC, I’ve become aware of a possible revision of the current school nutrition rules in Illinois. This possibility is very exciting and has the potential to make a real difference for children’s health by improving the food available at school.

The Illinois School Wellness Task Force, a group of health and education experts convened by the Illinois legislature, has issued recommendations for improving the standard of foods and beverages sold in all schools. Now, the Illinois State Board of Education is holding hearings on this recommendation and needs to hear that there is public support for improving the food available at schools.

I completely support the Taskforce recommendations because they would ensure that healthier food is available in all schools and would extend state nutrition standards to cover high schools as well as elementary schools.

From what I have seen, schools offer a traditional “school lunch” to students and also offer a variety of other foods during the school day and at during meals.  These other choices include food sold in a la carte areas, vending machines, snack bars and at fundraising events.  The most common items sold in these venues are high in fat, sugar and salt. 

In my experiences at schools, I’ve seen that many students are unaware of the what to look for when seeking healthy food and do not understand the importance of nutrition.

If students are unaware of the benefits of healthy eating, what is going to stop them from choosing the sweets and high-fat foods that are being offered to them at school instead of the fruits, vegetables and other healthy choices?  Changing the nutrition rules and improving the standards for all foods and beverages sold in all schools is the first step to conquering this problem, improving children’s health and readiness to learn.

We need to show the members of the Illinois State Board of Education that they have public support for improving the quality of food in school.

You can show your support for this important and common-sense change in two easy ways: you can attend a public forum on the issue or can send an email to ISBE expressing your support. Your voice will help improve the food available to students throughout the state.