BY SYLVIA FIORELLO, RETIRED TEACHER AND WRITER
As I mentioned in my last article, I will share more with you about our local schools and food service directors and the directions they are taking to provide healthier lunches. But before I do that I wanted to spend some time writing about our plans to survey all the schools in Chautauqua County. To do that we need food activists and volunteers who might want to join us and visit their local school with a copy of our survey.
As individuals in our homes many of us are saying no to growth hormones in milk, no to pesticides on our fruit, no to highly processed foods, no to highly saturated fats, and trans fats. And we say no to the soy used as filler in everything. But are we saying no to them in our schools? That is why as parents and health advocates we need to get involved. As I said in my last article, “Time for Healthier Lunches in Our Schools, “We must care enough to get involved rather than expect the schools to shoulder the entire responsibility.”
Exciting things are happening in our schools here in Chautauqua County and nationwide. How do these changes happen? They happen because individuals care enough to get involved. Watch for some new changes at Chautauqua Lake Central School. There is talk that the school is changing to natural foods. How did this come about, who started it? These are the questions that will be answered fully in the next article. The superintendent/principal, the food service director and the wellness committee are the key players in any school that wants to have healthier lunches. Without their cooperation, nothing will happen.
So how do we jump start some of our schools to want to make changes to healthier school lunches? First we need to meet with at least one of the key players and ask them to participate in an educational survey. Some of them are way ahead of us and are already making big changes. Several community members and I spent time developing a Healthy Food/Healthy Activity School Survey. The purpose of the survey is to provide awareness on how to help schools provide healthier foods and activity to decrease childhood food allergies, illness and obesity. Some of the information for the survey came from the NYC Department of Education Wellness Policies in physical activity and nutrition.
How many of you know about the HealthierUS School Challenge? This is a voluntary initiative established in 2004 that recognizes schools that participate in the National School Lunch Program and have created healthier school environments by promoting nutrition and physical activity. In New York State we had ten ward winning schools. The closest one to us was the Binghamton School District. We would like to see our schools in Chautauqua County participating in the Challenge. That is a question on the survey.
Would you like your school to participate in the Chefs on the Move Program? Michelle Obama is calling on chefs to get involved by adopting a school and working with teachers, parents, school food service directors and administrators to help educate kids about food and nutrition. Run through the department of agriculture, this program will pair chefs with interested schools to create healthy meals. Sign up is done completely on the Internet. This is another question on the survey.
Does your school offer any healthy nutrition-centered or exercise-based educational programs in Adult Education? Do you offer after school activities related to healthy eating or activity such as healthy cooking clubs or a school garden? Do you support a national school lunch budget increase of a $1 per child to provide fresh fruits and vegetables on a daily basis? These are questions on the survey.
Is your cafeteria friendly, pleasing and eye catching to students? Does it display student artwork advertising healthy food? Would you like to promote healthy eating through art contests? Do you display calorie counts and fat contents on menu boards for students to see? Do you ever have taste tests for new foods? These are questions on the survey.
All of the questions are designed to be discussion starters. Can you image a cafeteria that is filled with colorful student posters and art work depicting healthy eating and activity. And, why not involve the students in their own health and let them educate each other.
We are at an exciting time right now. I think that a food revolution is quietly taking place. We must take back our food supply so that growers and the food industries produce the kind of healthy food that we as a nation want to eat. We can dream of the day that organic farmers are subsidized by the government instead of the big agri-businesses.
Perhaps you live in a school district that you think might benefit from the survey. We are prepared to offer a training to volunteers who might like to take the survey to their school, their food service director, their wellness team or their superintendent. Just call me at 488-8301 if you are interested in helping us with our survey.
Sylvia Fiorello is a retired teacher and writer. Her book, My Best Friend Ever, is a humorous how-to book for middle schoolers teaching them how to eat healthy and exercise and how to become a food factivist and activist.