Schools have become hazardous zones full of empty calories, junk food, and stripped down physical education programs. When most school kitchens have only deep fryers, microwaves, and displays for candy and junk food at the checkout counters, how can children stay healthy? When the food served is as addictive as heroin or cocaine, who is accountable? General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, shared with me that 70 percent of the applicants for the military are unfit to serve. The school lunch program was started in 1946 because military recruits were too thin to serve in the military; now, in part because of our school lunch program, our children are too fat to serve.
Here’s what you can do
- Help reinvent school lunch programs. The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 removes junk food from schools by applying nutrition standards to all foods sold in schools (including vending machines in hallways), and supports access to fresh produce through farm-to-school networks, the creation of school gardens, and the use of local foods.
- Watch the movie Two Angry Moms to learn how to take back the lunchroom.
- Support schools as safe zones. Give students access only to foods that promote health and optimal brain functioning.
- Support changes in zoning laws. Prevent fast-food and junk-food outlets from operating next to schools.
- Support “eat only in the lunchroom” policies for schools. Studies have shown that when school districts prohibit eating in hallways and classrooms, children lose 10 percent of their body weight without ANY other change in diet or exercise.
- Build school gardens. Teach children about the origins of food and let them experience the sensory delight of real, garden-fresh fruits and vegetables.
- Support the integration of self-care and nutrition curriculum into schools. Work with your local or regional school boards to introduce programs like Mehmet Oz’s HealthCorps into schools around the country.
- Bring back basic cooking skills to schools. Make these skills part of a curriculum that includes essential life tools.