Already this school year I’ve been faced with a cheesecake sale for a booster club; candy sale for the school; hot dogs, chips and soda served at an afterschool program…and there’s the promise of more of the same through the school year. I’m hoping my experience is not representative across the mountains and prairies of this large country, but I fear it is.
An area of school food where there has been much nutrition attention is the foods and beverages sold and served to children in our schools to tow the line. For the 2005-06 school year the USDA required a Wellness Policy from any school district/system which receives reimbursement for school-served meals. A 2007 report card on the effectiveness of these policies on a state by state basis is offered by Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) offers one anaylsis.And there promises to be more action on the school nutrition front based on an Institute of Medicine published 10/20/09 School Meals for Healthy Children (www.iom.edu)
But food and beverages sold during school hours, generally in the cafeteria, is just one place that schools, our kids and foods collide. Another is foods served in after-school programs, food is sold as PTA, school
and club fundraisers and food is served at school sporting and other
events. These receive too little attention and seem "untouchable" due to the revenue they produce. Yet few, if any, of these foods and beverages get the grade of A for nutrition. The Wellness Policies, while they may cover these foods in writing, offer lip service vs. the teeth to enforce the good nutrition message. But let’s talk about the adults in and around the schools - parents, administrators, PTA organizations and teachers. Wouldn’t you think that with all the buzz about the childhood obesity epidemic they would have an ounce or two of consciousness about what our kids put in their mouths? Not the case! The priorities of raising money and purchasing cheap foods to match skimpy budgets are still top dog. Serving or selling these less-than-healthy foods often gets a wink, wink and it's only a once-in-a-while occasion.
It’s time for us adults to reprioritize nutrition and help our children grow up healthy - we’ve got to walk the walk. Speak up and raise awareness about these issues. Creative ways to raise money in schools are available without selling unhealthy foods. Children can be feed and will eat healthy snacks. Some school district have shown this is possible and CSPI provides excellent resources to get you and your community out of the starting gate. Let's get started. Together we can raise a healthier next generation!