Now more than ever, making good dietary choices has become very important to start implementing at a young age. From ages six to 18, students spend the majority of their time in school, eating school foods. I personally do not eat at school. In the past, I have gotten sick from school food. I really feel that there need to be healthier alternatives in school foods.
Improving child nutrition is the focal point of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Unfortunately, these alternatives have not reached my school. I would love to see healthier alternatives in my school, such as an array of fruits and vegetables rather than the options we are given now, which include pizza and fried chicken fingers. There are great organizations such as New York Coalition for Healthy School Food that strive to implement healthy alternatives into New York public schools, and get kids excited about eating healthy. I had the chance to sit down with Amie Hamlin, the CEO of New York Coalition for Healthy School Food to share some of her insights on bringing healthier food alternatives into schools.
Q. What has inspired you to work on bringing healthier foods into schools?
A. Kid's truly are our future. When Type 2 diabetes, which used to be called "adult onset" has become epidemic in children, when children as young as 8-years-old are being prescribed cholesterol and blood pressure lowering medications, I feel inspired to do something about it.
Q. How has the general response been across the board on healthier foods?
A. Oh, that's simple. Introduced the right way, and removing unhealthy options that compete with healthier choices, kids learn that they feel better and that is motivation for them to be happy about it. Did you know that a huge percentage of kids in school are regularly constipated?
Q. (How) has your mission statement affected the students? Are they responding positively or negatively?
A. Students love eating fruit, and with proper introduction to vegetables, they love vegetables too. There is a growing awareness. New federal food regulations for school meals went into place last September, and the food is getting better. But meeting the regulations does not automatically make it all healthy, but it is better than it was.
Q. If I want to bring healthier foods into my school. What can I do?
A. All schools are offering more fruits and vegetables. Make sure most of them are fresh, rather than canned. The major problem is that while all the additional fruits and vegetables come with good intentions, the lunch periods are not long enough for the kids to eat them. They should have had all these extra fruits and vegetables be a fruit and vegetable snack program in every school in the country. Go into the school and ask to see the wrappers from the bread, bagels, and pizza crusts. You'll see they are almost always loaded with preservatives, high fructose corn syrup, dough conditioners, and other food additives. Say no to food additives.
Q. How can you encourage schools to look past the misconception of public schools not being able to afford healthy and organic foods?
A. Our programs are proof. But there is no question that food service directors -- who are very dedicated public servants, and who are working very hard to do the best that they can with almost impossible circumstances and not enough budget -- yet still coming up with creative ways to make it happen -- can use your help. Don't complain -- ask them how you can help. Come with your healthy ideas and know that these changes don't come easily. It takes coordinating, hard work, lots of education and lots of passion.
Since this is such an important and broad subject, this post will be done in three parts. Part two will feature food companies that actually supply healthier choices to New York public schools. Stay tuned!