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The Crusade Marches On – School Lunches, Jamie Oliver, and The Child Nutrition Act

What do Jamie Oliver – British chef and The Child Nutrition Act have in common? Both are mechanisms by which (hopefully) we are going to experience badly needed change in the way our children eat lunch and breakfasts in public schools.

How many times have you heard someone say what terrible food children eat for lunch at school? I’ve been hearing complaints since I was a little girl. It’s a sad state of affairs when people just accept the fact that children don’t receive healthy food at school. Our children are our future, and if we don’t provide them with the proper foundations in which to build that future, all will be lost.

The truth is, many parents agree that school lunches are pure garbage; I know because I am a parent who has worked on the school lunch initiative in my city of Boise, Idaho. Anyone who knows me understands how passionate I am about real food, and especially about children’s health.

Although I already knew what to expect in the contents of foods served at schools, I was in for a really rude awakening when I went into the warehouse that stores foods served by my school district last spring and read the ingredients. For a detailed look at some of the things we found, visit this post: Meals for Children are Lacking – Restaurants and School Lunches are Lacking In Nutrition.

My team, comprised of other parents (one a medical doctor and the other an exercise physiologist) did an analysis of several main entrees that are served in our district and presented our findings to the school administrators. Despite the startling scientific evidence showing the negative impact that these particular foods and many others we were calling into question have on human health, the individuals attending our presentation were largely unmoved by this data – as is evident by the fact that this food is still served in school lunch cafeterias in Boise, Idaho and other school districts today.

I’ve also had numerous conversations with other parents who are tired of having to send their children to school and eat the food that is served. Some of them are so fed up they send lunches with their children. That’s exactly what I did when my son attended school for one year, during his second grade year.

Chef Jamie Oliver of Britain has been making changes for years in different places – his home country, and now this country. He is on a mission to change how our children eat their meals. Airing on ABC this week is a very important series about his efforts to go into an American school in Virginia and show them just how important these changes can be. Here’s the preview of the first episode, which aired on Sunday March 21st, 2010:

And here is the full episode.

Don’t miss the next episode airing on Friday, March 26th of Food Revolution. And please, please take a moment and read through this action item I received from Organic Valley today about making your voice heard about our children’s health and future. Nothing, in my opinion, could be more important than this!
Dear Farm Friend,

Childhood obesity and diabetes are at epidemic levels in our country. At Organic Valley, we promote the benefits of delicious, healthy eating, but realize that some children have little access to the nutritious foods that they need.

You can make a difference in the lives of more than 31 million children by helping schools serve healthier food. The National School Lunch program is a big part of the solution. Ask Congress to pass a strong Child Nutrition Act.

Right now, legislators are considering changes that will enable more schools to buy food from local farmers, cook fresh meals, teach healthy eating, and plant school gardens. This is an enormous opportunity for families and for farmers. Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign website makes it easy for you to email your legislators.

Helping more schools serve healthy, local food would be a major step forward towards a future where everyone can enjoy food that’s good for us, good for the planet and good for the farmers who produce it.

The Senate Agriculture Committee will begin marking up the bill this Wednesday, March 24, so your timely comments make a difference. Please take a moment to speak out at Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch. Then, contact us at to let us know you took action.

Thanks for all you do!
The Farmers and Staff of Organic Valley

Do you have some experience dealing with your school district and trying to make change where you live? Please share!

Here are some other school lunch posts:

Changing the Face of School Lunches – There’s Still A Lot Of Work To Do
Your Voice Can Make A Difference in The Way Children Eat School Lunch
Disturbed About What Your Kids Are Eating In School?

5 replies on “The Crusade Marches On – School Lunches, Jamie Oliver, and The Child Nutrition Act”

Another great post. This subject is something that is long overdue!
When my children [now adults] were young, this was not an issue for me. I had complete control over what went into their bodies. My children were able to come home for lunch every day, and I fed them what I thought to be at the time, good wholesome nutrition. Spinach salad; homemade soups, broccoli, whole grains, and fresh fruits. I am very afraid for the children of today. Look at the incidence of obesity; ADD, ADHD, type II diabetes, allergies, learning disabilities – it’s obvious to anyone with half a brain that the food chain is a HUGE part of the problem. Allergies; don’t even get me started!

Parents’ are SO very tired, I am sure due to the lack of proper nutrients in their own diets; they don’t have the energy to see what is clearly right in front of them. We have to help! This show is a good step in the right direction. As with anything – baby steps. If you go full force at anyone, they will rebel – even if they know that it is for their own good. This show will definitely open some eyes, and hopefully, drastic measures will ensue.

I am still truly amazed at how many people do not know what is in, or goes into their food. Ignorance is bliss. Unfortunately, in this case, ignorance can mean death!

I had this very discussion with my sister a few weeks back. She said to me, that “I was insane to drink raw milk, EWW, eat liver”, and when it came to her children, she had to pick her battles. Food is one she is unwilling to take on. Even after losing my Father to MDS, she still chooses to ignore the correlation between diet; pharmaceuticals, and health! For years my Father was told to “watch his cholesterol, don’t eat fatty foods, no eggs and use skim milk”. UGH!

In the end, I think all we can do is share what we have learned, and hope for the best. People generally don’t take their health into consideration until some “health crisis” arises in their own lives – sadly, it’s often too late. I am truly the black sheep of MY family, and I pray for their health, every day!

Thank you, Raine. You ARE the best!

Cheryl – thank you so much for your thoughtful comments. Yes, it’s a scary world now for raising kids. So much is different than it used to be in terms of our chemical exposures, pervasiveness of toxins, additives, preservatives, hormones, antibiotics, and other harmful substances in foods and products we use in our home and on our bodies.

Yesterday when I was watching the Food Revolution show, Jamie was there standing in the kitchen with the school cooks asking them if they weren’t bothered by the long list of ingredients on the big packages they were looking at. The main first, main ingredients were “beef” and “chicken” and so that’s all those women saw. He had to ask the question three different times before he got a response. And the response was that she (the head cook) wasn’t worried about the ingredients. Jamie was clearly in disbelief, as was I. Is it that s a culture are so desensitized to chemicals and preservatives that we really don’t think there’s any problem with them being in our food? That’s exactly how it appeared to be with those women. They seemed unnaturally sedate and un-phased by these ingredients, and I think that’s a big problem. You know that if there was a room full of people who have a problem with ingredients like that, you’d hear a chorus of dismay and dissent, but absolutely nothing like that from these people at all!

It is frustrating to try to inform people about these important things, but you’re right – all we can do is share what we’ve learned and hope for the best. And people don’t often pay attention until it’s too late, that’s so true (it’s like that with so many other things too).

I can see why people don’t want to deal with making changes in their diets – they are tired and sick, and rightly so. The way they eat couldn’t possibly support their abilities to function properly and deal with stress, etc. So they give in to the path of least resistance.

I honestly think big agribusiness and pharmaceuticals count on this for their livelihood. You know that if people started a revolution and stopped eating processed foods, those industries would crumble to the ground. But what’s funny about all of that is while those jobs would disappear, new ones in the sustainable sector would be created. Equivalent jobs that are producing healthy products, ethically, would appear, and those people could possibly gain employment there. But people don’t think about things like that. They just bring up the negative and don’t see the long-term benefit to sustainable living.

You prepared a number fine points there. I did a good solid research for this particular issue and found out generally people will definitely agree with your website. Thanks

The thought occurred to me that this is almost like class-ism. What I mean is, I only reluctantly let my child buy school lunch occasionally, which is what I would expect other people to do. However, it is the people who depend on school lunches because of financial reasons, that this is really harming. And it is the same for the grocery stores- the cheap food (manufactured, processed chemical laden foods) some of us choose to avoid, but others feel like that’s how they can afford to eat all month. Am I making sense?

When I watched Food Revolution the scene that Raine mentions is the one that really stood out to me- because it’s just so true. So many people really don’t care (like the family he is trying to help) or don’t take the time to care/read/realize what they are actually feeding themselves. Of course the encouraging thing is that more & more people are caring about real food- proof being the fact that ABC is airing this show.

Lisa – I understand people being concerned about costs rising for lunches and breakfasts, especially for those on budgets and low-income families. Something that wasn’t mentioned in the Jamie Oliver series is that other pioneers in the school lunch movement like Chef Ann Cooper, Alice Waters, and Toni Geraci have already shown that models like this actually work in places like Boston, Berkeley, Baltimore, Colorado, and locations where they are serving real food to kids and the costs of doing it didn’t go over what they were already spending. There’s always some adjustment time, as with anything, especially when kids have been eating a certain way for so long – you have to remember too, that there are a lot of chemicals and additives specially engineered by scientists put into these foods to make people addicted to them, and that’s part of the whole process of learning to eat differently. It doesn’t happen overnight, just like with any new food you introduce to children. Just because they won’t eat it once, twice, or even 10 times doesn’t mean you should give up.

If you noticed, the school officials and lunch room staff seemed almost vindicated when the children turned up their noses at the food the first time, but they hadn’t even given the kids a chance to get used to it and start really liking it. The same thing happened in Baltimore, MD with Toni Geraci’s school. The kids resisted at first, but then as time went on, 6 weeks or so, the children liked the food and were eating it enthusiastically.

In the film, ‘Two Angry Moms’ one school was actually making a “profit” on their lunch line that was converted from processed foods to real food. It’s amazing what can be done when people actually make the effort and do something about a problem instead of just assuming it won’t work and naysaying it before they even try to make a change. All those other schools made significant changes, and many of them were using local and organic, real foods and didn’t have to alter their pricing structure significantly, and in some cases, they did it for the same or less.

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