Children need good food. Period. Most cafeteria lunches are sourced with ingredients that don’t provide adequate nutrition for what a growing child requires to live healthfully.
As a child’s body develops, they need healthy foods to support every change their body quickly experiences. For many school-aged children, their meals are provided by their schools – and most parents put their trust in these institutions that they will feed their children well. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, except for one school that’s changing it all.
Organic, Non-GMO School Lunches
As schools in the Sausalito Marin City School District opened their doors this past August (2017), they became the first in the nation to serve their students 100 percent organic meals, sustainably sourced and free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
This means that more than 500 students at Bayside MLK Jr. Academy (Marin City) and Willow Creek Academy (Sausalito) in Marin County, California, will eat sustainably sourced (local, fresh, organic and seasonal) meals this year, all prepared on-site through The Conscious Kitchen (TCK).
The Conscious Kitchen is a project of the environmental education non-profit Turning Green. Turning Green launched TCK pilot program in August 2013 together with Cavallo Point Lodge, the Sausalito Marin City School District, Whole Foods Market and Good Earth Natural Foods. In just two years the program saw a steep decrease in disciplinary cases, increased attendance and a greater sense of community.
“Students everywhere are vulnerable to pesticide residues and unsafe environmental toxins,” says Judi Shils, founder and executive director of Turning Green. “Not only does this program far exceed USDA nutritional standards, but it ties the health of our children to the health of our planet. It’s the first program to say that fundamentally, you cannot have one without the other.”
TCK redefined what healthy school food means by basing it off five foundational terms: Fresh, Local, Organic, Seasonal, and Non-GMO (FLOSN). All the food is organic and non-GMO, and more than 90% of all produce is sourced from local farmers and purveyors.
This is what TCK offers for school lunch programs:
• Serve fresh, local, organic, seasonal, non-GMO food
• Purchase within USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) budget and exceed nutritional guidelines
• Daily scratch-cooked meals from an on-site kitchen
• Dedicated head chef and staff
• Kitchens partner with local community chef
• Partnerships with organic farmers and purveyors
• Strong commitment to, and education around zero waste
• Broad-based community involvement
• Leadership development through TCK Ambassadors Program
• Food literacy through Garden and Nutrition Curriculum.
TCK essentially provides delicious nutritious meals, cooked fresh on-site for the same cost as the frozen, processed, mass-produced institutional food served in other public schools.
“Most people don’t realize that GMOs are everywhere, especially in processed foods. By embracing fresh, local, organic, non-GMO food, this program successfully disrupts the cycle of unhealthy, pre-packaged, heat and serve meals that dominate school kitchens,” said Executive Chef, Justin Everett (2).
In 2012, the USDA revised its nutrition standards for schools to cut sodium, use grains that are at least 51% whole grains, and add more fruit and vegetables to both breakfasts and lunches. However, with the new presidency, sodium and whole grain requirements were reversed to 2010 standards (3).
If schools are finding that students aren’t eating what’s offered, waivers are available. The current standards, which now follow those from 2010 are as follows (4):
– Lunch meals must have less than 1230mg of sodium (which is shy of the 1500mg limit set for most grown adults per day)
– Breakfast and lunch must include at least 1/2 cup of fresh fruit or vegetables (definitely not enough!)
– No trans fats allowed (this is a good thing)
– No more than 10% of calories from saturated fat (another good thing, but that limit could be set to 5%)
– Flavoured milk must be fat-free (except, they don’t care about all that sugar)
The USDA’s nutritional guidelines were developed by research that looked into the expected outcomes of food choices in schools, both meals served in cafeterias and snack foods otherwise available. Since students eat more than half their daily intake at school, it is critical that food is made nutritious.
Getting Kids To Eat Healthy
Kids learn to enjoy certain tastes in food as they grow up in home. They eat what they like, and if that food isn’t offered at school, they likely won’t eat it.
Getting kids to eat what’s food for them takes a little more effort than simply providing them with healthier meals that might not taste like the stuff they get at home.
“Schools that incorporate an integrated approach to edible education – combining local, seasonal food procurement strategies with hands-on lessons taught in the classroom, kitchen, and garden – are far more likely to sustain healthy school meal initiatives,” said Liza Siegler, Director of Partnerships and Engagement at The Edible Schoolyard Project (5).
This was the inspiration behind TCK, and based on the pilot program, this method works. Helping children to understand what they’re eating and why it’s important is why food education is needed in the school curriculum. It will give the children a sense of freedom in choosing to make better food choices, and will dramatically change society and our food systems as we know it.