School Meals Are More Important Than Ever—Here's How You Can Get Involved
Holistic Nutritionist Marisa Faye walks us through the importance of school meals, and what you can do to improve the food and nutrition at your child's school
January 15, 2021 | By
My name is Marisa Faye, and I’m a Holistic Nutritionist working with the Chef Ann Foundation to encourage and empower parents, families, and community members to get involved with the nutrition of the children in their lives.
Today, I’m dropping by to share ways that you can become more engaged in the healthy school food movement. So, let’s dive in! First, I know that you already care about what your child eats by the fact that you’re even reading this post. That means you’re in good company with us at the Chef Ann Foundation, so let’s dig a little deeper.
The Impact of Nutrition & Importance of School Meals
Chronic diseases are on the rise in the United States. This includes conditions such as heart disease, cancer, type II diabetes, and Alzheimer’s disease. Currently, six out of every 10 adults in the United States have been diagnosed with a chronic disease. These health issues are all heavily influenced by, and in some cases attributed to, lifestyle choices—with nutrition playing a key role in disease development.
So, why should we care? And why should we think about this when it comes to the children and adolescents in our lives? Since these diseases are influenced by nutrition and other lifestyle choices, we know that they take years, even decades, to occur. The habits and behaviors that adults have are created and solidified in their youth. This means that we have a prime opportunity to create a generation that engages in healthy habits, including informed and healthy food choices.
Some adults I work with share that they feel sad their child can’t enjoy “insert favorite junk food” regularly, but remember: as an adult, you’ve likely had some unhealthy habits from childhood that you’ve had to break. However, if we intervene and influence children and adolescents while they are young, there is an opportunity to make healthy choices (like eating vegetables at every meal) a normal and regular part of their life.
Making School Meals Equitable for All Students
When we talk about making healthy food choices easy and accessible for children and adolescents, we also need to acknowledge that all youth may not have access to healthy food, or even a reliable source of food at all. In 2019, about one in seven children in the U.S. lived in a food insecure household. During the COVID-19 health emergency, that number increased to one in three. It’s difficult for families that do not know where their next meal will come from to focus on healthy habits, let alone to prioritize purchasing healthy, whole foods like fruits, vegetables, and animal proteins. For these students, school meals become even more critical to their health and wellbeing, and their families rely on this resource to provide food for their children.
However, it’s not just these students that depend on school meals. In 2019, more than 74% of lunches served in the U.S. were to children on the free and reduced-price program. It’s safe to assume that even more students may be eligible in the coming years due to the pandemic. With so many students relying on schools to provide food, it becomes even more critical to address the quality of the food being served since we know healthy food leads to healthier students that focus and learn more effectively. While the Chef Ann Foundation is on the front lines supporting and teaming up with schools across the country, we need your voice as an advocate and caretaker. That’s why we’ve revamped our School Food Advocacy Toolkit.
The School Food Advocacy Toolkit is your one-stop for information, resources, and inspiration to work with your child’s school and create meaningful change in their food and nutrition. The Toolkit is divided into four intentional sections:
- Get Educated is all about providing background information on how school food works and the benefits of healthy school food.
- Get Organized is where you’ll find resources on forming an advocacy group and tips for running meetings, including a sample plug-and-play agenda.
- Get Support honors the myriad of school professionals who are working everyday to keep kids safe and healthy within the boundaries of complicated rules and policies. This section helps you work with the professionals in your school and district to make change together.
- Take Action includes programs, activities, and ideas on how to prioritize your advocacy group’s work.
- Tools for Home shares educational resources to start your family’s food journey.
Even if the idea of forming or being part of an advocacy group doesn’t feel right for you at the moment, I encourage you to drop into the Get Educated and Get Support sections of the Toolkit. Both of these sections provide information that is helpful to any parent or family member that wants to learn more about school food in general. It might also inspire you to be a changemaker somewhere down the road.