10/26/2014 09:47 pm ET Updated Dec 24, 2014

Urging Food Education and Cooking Classes in Nation's Schools

This Oct. 24, 8,000 events all around the country will bring Americans together to celebrate and enjoy real food and to push for improved food policies. Hundreds of school districts will celebrate Food Day by serving special healthy meals in cafeterias as well as organizing cooking classes and harvest celebrations in school gardens.

This Food Day, let's commit to getting food education in every school.

Schools have the unique ability to educate children about food and nutrition. Yet elementary students receive an average of just 3.4 hours of food and nutrition education a year.

Schools, together with local communities and families, need to be at the heart of food education. They need to teach children about food, where it comes from, and how it affects our bodies. That will put the tools of prevention in the hands of children themselves.

One-third of children in the United States are overweight or obese and total health care costs attributable to obesity could reach $957 billion by 2030. Meanwhile 17 million children in the United States remain hungry.

Obesity and poor nutrition are major contributors to diet-related diseases, and major risk factors for them are often established in childhood through unhealthy eating habits and poor health literacy. And while childhood obesity is causing adult diseases in children, fried potatoes remain the largest source of vegetables eaten by school-aged children. Fewer than 20 percent of adolescents aged 12 to 18 eat the recommended five or more servings of fruits or vegetables each day.

Food education is too important to leave to the marketing messages of a food industry that is spending $2 billion a year to teach children and teens to want candy, sugar drinks, sugary cereals, and other highly-processed junk foods.

Schools across the country are launching initiatives that could be models for a national food education policy. Those include nutrition classes and hands-on programs where kids can grow, touch, cook, and taste food.

Food Literacy Center in Sacramento teaches low-income elementary children cooking and nutrition, and trains community members as food literacy instructors, allowing the program to reach more kids.

Gardeneers programs in Chicago provides schools with a garden setup, continued maintenance, and a curriculum for the entire growing season.

In New York City, Wellness in the Schools has taught over 30,000 kids about healthy eating.

The Seeds of Cuisine program in Portland, Oregon, supports students in meeting academic goals though integrating Language, Arts, and Science into cooking and gardening.

Food skills are one of the most valuable life skills one can ever learn and every child should learn about food, where it comes from and how it affects his or her body.

Start by getting involved on Oct. 24 in one of these ways:

Join the #FoodDayChat Twitter Chat -- 5 hours, 5 topics -- with the conversation about food education between 4-5pm ET. Follow and use hashtag #FoodDayChat to participate.

Take the Food Literacy Quiz -- Take and share the Food Literacy Quiz and encourage people you know to take it on Food Day.

Get Kids Cooking -- Cook with kids using recipes from the free recipe booklet "20 Recipes to Get Kids Cooking" created by Food Day culinary director Kate Sherwood.