What’s on the menu?

Not mystery meat, that’s for sure. This past Wednesday, Amanda Marrazzo wrote an article for the Chicago Tribune on the steps school districts are taking to bring more nutritious food to their school lunches. The districts in the article were all Chicago area schools like Barrington, Elgin, Evanston and Downers Grove. In recent years many schools have cut down on their fried or junk foods and things like sugary snacks or soda replaced them with healthier fare such as fruits and vegetables. Now they are trying to take this idea further and include things on their menus like whole grains, leaner meats, low-fat dairy products and 100% all natural fruit juice. School officials realize that the majority of a child’s eating during the school year takes place in their cafeterias and with childhood obesity on the rise, they want to make sure that children are getting the best nutrition as possible. Officials are also trying to educate children about eating well balanced and healthy meals, so that they can make better decisions on their own. This article focused on the elimination of the bad foods and the adding of the good foods in school cafeterias.

I believe that this is a step in the right direction with our countries health problems. We need to focus on teaching our kids how to eat and live better at a younger age because that builds a basis for a healthier life in the long run. If you start off eating tons of vegetables and good foods, there is a really good chance that you will continue that for the rest of your life. I also like that some schools include the students in the decision making process, hosting tasting sessions where the children can taste possible new menu items and weigh in on them. This gets the kids involved and excited about these healthier foods and helps to show them that not all food that is good for you tastes bad. All this being said, I still see some problems that were not addressed in this article. While schools are doing more to eliminate the bad food from their menus, there are still those options out there. And in cafeterias where kids can pick their own lunch items, many of them will still opt for the less healthy foods. Who wouldn’t? They taste good, are probably a little less expensive, and the kids are used to eating those things. We need to help teach these kids about eating right and the effect that all those bad foods can have on their health and their life. We need to help make healthy food fun by offering healthy cooking classes, or starting a school garden. I know from experience if you really involve someone in the whole food process, it really connects them to the meal they are about to eat. Furthermore, let’s help educate the parents as well. Many times, they are just as lost as their children about what a good meal is, and even more so when it comes to preparing the meal. It’s much easier to go through the drive through or pick up a pizza than try to figure out what and how to cook a healthy dinner. Especially when you have little people screaming at you that they are hungry and they want to eat NOW! My second major issue with this article are the districts that are actually implementing these new menus. Barrington. Evanston. Skokie. What do these areas all have in common? Money. And quite a good amount of it. Now that isn’t bad and like I said it is great that they are taking action and trying to help the students eat better, but what about inner city schools? Or small town rural schools that just do not have the funding to pay for the healthier meals? Because this is a sad reality: the healthy food that we need to eat costs more than the junk food we usually eat. While that issue is a whole other post (trust me, I will get to my deep down disappointment on the cost of healthier eating/living), it is still an issue that needs to be talked about in this article. The fact is that the wealthier districts aren’t really the districts that have the major health problems. It is those that have students whose parents are in a lower socioeconomic status that are fighting a losing battle with health. They have lower incomes and can’t buy all the organic healthy foods and have to choose the less healthy but cheaper options like fast food or processed meals. This in turn causes bad health and yet again they do not have the income to deal with those problems either. It is a vicious and frustrating cycle and unfortunately the students in these lower income families are the ones reaping the consequences. Now I am not saying that I have the answer to all of these problems, but I am saying we HAVE to do something to help level the playing field so to speak. Every single person regardless of their economic status or income deserves access to the healthiest food possible. So we as a society need to help fight for those issues, and stand up for the folks who can’t do it all on their own. Overall this article was good, and I was glad to see that people are trying to take the health of our students and young people seriously. As corny as it sounds, they are our future and we need to take care of them now so that they are set up for life. The steps already being taken are good ones, but let’s expand. Let’s think big and make these goals for everyone and help spread this across Chicago, Illinois, the country and the world. Proper nutrition is SO important and healthier lives are happier ones. Now that I have pumped you up go out there and do something crazy good, like choose the grilled chicken instead of the fried! Have a great Monday and until next time!

What do you think we can do to help grant access to better food for lower income families? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.