Why U.S. School Kids Are Flunking Lunch

Submitted by Lois Rain on April 12, 2011 – 12:07 pmNo Comment

Healthy food guru Jamie Oliver of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” TV series, runs into roadblocks when he tries reform school cafeterias. Even though parents and administration in L.A. were yearning for him to revolutionize their cafeterias, L.A. school boards banned him from cafeteria entrance to overhaul them. His exuberance and passion for healthy eating to combat obesity, diabetes and more in children doesn’t keep him at bay.

Instead, he simply spoke to kids in L.A. schools; all he needed was an hour of their time to impact them forever. Why are children failing school lunch? Because they can’t even answer a simple question: Where does honey come from? Bears, trees, or bees? That’s all Oliver needs to know that they don’t have a foundation for what food is and how it can help them, not hurt them. They are not hearing it from school, friends, parents, or television. They did however, have a vast knowledge of diabetes and treatments, as many of them and their families are chronic sufferers.

Some schools are taking extremes such as banning packed lunches, but this causes a great backlash, especially from parents who think they are packing healthy lunches. Another drawback of this type of action is forcing low income parents to buy lunches everyday versus packing. The cafeterias might also believe they are preparing healthy lunches but based on what, the USDA food pyramid?

Oliver knows that the true basis for revolution is in the power of knowledge. It’s what fuels, empowers, and teaches a kid to fish forever. Another source for revolution is a book from Chef Ann Cooper (The Renegade Lunch Lady) and Lisa Holmes called Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children. They are also activists who reformed school cafeterias to organic and locally grown using the same budget. The kids grow their own food on school grounds and take pleasure in eating that produce in the cafeteria later. Amazingly, behavior problems dropped and test scores sky rocketed after their efforts.

Action ideas! 

You can see that it doesn’t take much. If the above stories inspired you to take action, here are some thoughts.

Libraries and community centers everywhere are hungry for speakers who would give their time to help the community or implement after school programs. Many of them have suffered heavy budget cuts and cannot pay for events like this. It gives you the floor to speak openly about a subject. Everyone’s an expert at something and you know more than you think you do. It helps libraries with PR and encourages patrons to check out the books you suggest.

“But I’m too afraid to speak…” Okay, it can be daunting until you realize that the audience is there to support you. You can enlist the help of experts in your area through Meetup or Facebook groups and acclimate to public speaking with help from your local Toastmaster’s Int’l group. They would love the opportunity to help you!

You don’t have to speak, let others speak while you support or organize. You could try something else like helping kids create their own healthy recipe book or simply creating one and distributing it. Your ideas are welcome below. If you have questions, we will do our best to answer them in the comments.

~Health Freedoms

[Account from Jamie Oliver on speaking at L.A. public schools:]

I spent the first two months of 2011 living in Los Angeles, filming the second season of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” for ABC. After last year’s experience of trying to change food culture in the beautiful town of Huntington, West Virginia, I expected the challenges in L.A. to be very different. Shockingly, they were all too familiar.

L.A. is home to the nation’s second biggest school district, which feeds 650,000 children every day. Half of these kids are eligible for free school meals. Within a few miles of the Hollywood sign there are entire communities with no access to fresh food. People travel for well over an hour to buy fruits and vegetables, and in one of the communities where I worked, children had an 80% obesity rate.

I had planned to work in the L.A. schools to try to figure out how school food could be better—and, ideally, cooked from scratch. Thousands of outraged parents, not to mention teachers and principals, wanted me in their schools. But I couldn’t even get in the door: the Los Angeles Unified School District banned me from filming any of their food service operations, claiming that they didn’t need me because they were already leading the charge. [You can read the LAUSD's response here.]

Being barred from school kitchens led me into the classrooms. I gave a high school social studies class a simple food quiz. One of the questions asked, “Where does honey come from? A bear? A tree? Bees?” Almost all of the students got it wrong. Was it their fault? Absolutely not. If a child isn’t taught what real food is, where it comes from and how to make it into a tasty yet affordable meal, how we can we expect these kids—our future—to know what it’s doing to their bodies? They are likely to live a shorter life than their parents and die from an obesity-related disease.

These kids didn’t know where honey came from, but they sure knew about diabetes. They shared stories of entire families – parents, grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins – suffering from the disease. They begged for information and education so they could make better choices and avoid these bleak futures.

They soaked up the knowledge, and told me how it shifted their perspective—in only one hour. It doesn’t take much. But it takes more than nothing.

The second season of “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” premieres on ABC on April 12 at 8 p.m. ET.


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