Improving Student Health One School Meal at a Time

  • November 12, 2019
Herlinda Arriaga, A Parent And Local School Council Member At Talcott Elementary School, Member Parents United For Healthy Schools

Every year, we host the Change for Good Luncheon, Healthy Schools Campaign’s (HSC) annual event to bring focus to our work to make schools healthier places for all children and highlight new initiatives. This year we focused on lifting up the voices and experiences of parents and community leaders and invited public officials to hear and respond to their recommendations. This year, an audience of nearly 200 parents, community members and leaders from our civic, business, health and education communities heard a panel of grassroots leaders speak about their work in school health services, physical education, green schoolyards, school food and accountability. We invited public officials to listen and respond to those priorities. This series of blogs lays out those priorities and responses and highlights our policy recommendations to the recently elected Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker and Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot.

Nine years ago, Herlinda Arriaga, a parent and Local School Council Member at Talcott Elementary School, got involved with Parents United for Healthy Schools to launch a breakfast in the classroom program, which allows more students to access breakfast. “Recently, I helped launch a school meal survey that collected feedback from parents and students about the Chicago Public Schools meal program,” she said at the Change for Good Luncheon. “The surveys also helped create greater awareness and understanding among parents, students, schools and the district.”

Every school meal presents the opportunity to support a school’s core mission of education. Very simply, healthy, well-nourished students are more likely to attend school, be engaged and ready to learn. In Chicago, where many students rely on school for most of their meals, the school meal program helps address food insecurity. In this context, it is critical that the meals students receive at school are healthy.

We have a long history of working to improve school food and increase access to free school meal programs in Chicago and at the national level. We bring student voices to this important conversation through our Cooking up Change healthy cooking contest, and parents have been the backbone of our efforts to transform school food.

“I have learned that working together is crucial to make changes in the family, our schools, and in the community,” said Herlinda. “Today I ask our public officials and CPS to continue working and strengthening the positive changes that are happening. It is not time to back down but to continue going forward. Children are our future. Let’s continue advancing the work! Si se puede!”

CPS has been a leader in ensuring that students have access to healthy school meals that meet high nutrition standards, and we are excited to work with the district to push the envelope even farther. At the same time, the federal school meal standards, which were greatly improved under the Obama Administration, are under attack. We applaud the State of Illinois for joining in suing the Trump Administration for their recent rollback of nutrition standards, and we thank CPS for publicly committing to scientifically sound nutrition standards. We look forward to working with state and district leaders to put even stronger policies and practices in place.