My circumstances require me to rely on school lunch for my daughter, but she isn’t eating the food because, according to her, “It’s gross.” And I believe it! It doesn’t sound like she’s getting high quality nutritious food, which is what I try to provide at home. What should I do?
While some schools are creating more health-conscious, tasty menus, this is not a ubiquitous movement. Many families rely on their children eating at school, but many children are not getting enough nutrition from school meals. Understandably, as a parent you must feel frustrated. The key to making a change, though, is to resist the urge to complain; instead, advocate! You need to become part of the solution, and the following are some ways you can effect change at your daughter’s school:
- Write to the school. Let the school administrators know that you have a concern about the food that’s being served at school. Don’t complain, but rather find out who is responsible for the food service contract and then contact that person directly. Make suggestions for what you’d like to see done differently once you understand the specifics of the contract or food service operation and equipment limitations.
- Google for best practices. Conduct a Google search to find best practices of how schools are making lunches healthier. This will give you great ideas as well as proven solutions that are working, so there is less risk for your school.
- Wellness in the Schools is a NYC-based program whose mission is to inspire “healthy eating, environmental awareness and fitness as a way of life for kids in public schools across the country.” Their website may be a good place to start gathering resources and ideas.
- Also make sure to check out the new national standards for school meals, set by the USDA. The goal of these standards is to improve children’s health by requiring schools to “increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free and low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans fat in meals.”
- Create a petition. If you feel this way, it’s almost guaranteed that others do too. And since there is power in numbers, get as many parents (and kids, too!) on board as possible.
- Join or start a wellness council. Most states require schools to have wellness councils or committees focused on bringing better nutrition to school cafeterias and the classroom. If your school does not have one of these committees, reach out to fellow parents and community leaders to start your own. Brainstorm the types of changes you’d like to see, and engage school and/or local political leadership in understanding your cause.
Keep in mind that change typically happens slowly. For example, starting out with nutritional improvements such as baked chicken nuggets or French fries instead of the fried versions is a step in the right direction. Be an advocate today because your kids’ health is worth fighting for!
Have changes been made to the school lunch in your child’s school? Please share the solutions that have worked.
– Stacey Antine, MS, RD, author, Appetite for Life and founder, HealthBarn USA
What puzzles you about keeping your family healthy? Tell us what’s on your mind by emailing [email protected]. Stacey will answer those questions here weekly.