Last year, Edible Austin magazine asked me to attend the Culinary Institute of America’s Healthy Flavors, Healthy Kids conference and pinpoint a story about kids and food for the Spring 2013 Wellness issue. I knew some about school food and the hurdles faced by districts to revamp their menus, but had no idea how deeply troubling or complex the issue was.
As I started researching, I was struck by several things. First, I was awed by the creativity and ingenuity with which people across the country were tackling the problem. It’s easy to blame the schools for serving less than desirable food, but the often maligned and very dedicated food service professionals in our schools are tackling hills of red tape, supply chain issues, equipment scarcity and, in some cases, disinterest to get healthier foods to the kids. Chef Kate Adamick of Cook for America calls school food professionals Lunch Teachers – our first line of defense in teaching kids how to eat healhty.
And, one of the biggest challenges is that there is no “one size fits all” solution. What works in one district won’t necessarily work in another, even in the same state. The changes and menus have to be retrofitted for the local community and the district structure – thus the complexity. Organizations like School Food Focus provide technical assistance and networking tools for school food professionals to share solutions across the country so that everyone doesn’t have to reinvent the wheel even if they have to tweak it a bit.
Most importantly though, I learned that we have to model and reinforce healthy food at home for kids to embrace healthy food at school. Intuitively, I knew this, but to see the empirical data that backs it up was eye-opening. It’s easy to shift responsibility to the schools, but that won’t work. We have to make healthy food a habit at home as well. I don’t have kids, but I consider it part of my responsibility as an aunt to help teach my niece and nephew healthy eating. Chef Adamick said we all have kids whether they are biological or not, and I agree with her.
Reshaping Our Future Through Food was a fun piece to write, particularly exploring the great initiatives in the Austin and Houston school districts. You can celebrate and explore real food with your kids at Edible Austin’s free upcoming Children’s Picnic and Real Food Fair on Sunday, April 7th, at the French Legation museum from 1:00-5:00 pm.