Friday, November 20, 2009

Healthier Food in Our School Cafeterias - It's Not That Hard

As parents and taxpayers, we pay property taxes to fund the school system. Much of the funding goes to high paid administrators at the Central Office, too much. Despite an overly bloated number of well paid administrators, we do not have "best in class" programs in our schools. Superintendent Crawford Lewis decided to make up a new "Executive Director of Corporate Wellness" position at a high salary and assign it to a former principal with no background in public health. That's great for the new executive director, but it does nothing for students. (Not to mention, we already had a very highly qualified Director of Wellness in the same department, who does have advanced degrees in public health).

School lunch and nutrition is an area where DCSS has to improve. School systems across the country have realized that fresh, healthy food makes a difference for student achievement and student behavior. The CDC and the Emory School of Public Health are right here in our own county, yet there is no real relationship between them and the public school system.

Demand change of your Board of Education members, and demand that administrators perform and achieve at a higher level, without always asking for higher budgets. It's time for a change and school lunch and nutrition is one of the places to start!

Better School Food

We are Better School Food and we're asking to you to join us. Consider this:
  • Heart disease, cancer, stroke and diabetes are responsible for two-thirds of deaths in the U.S. The major risk factors for these diseases are often established in childhood.
  • One quarter of children ages 5 to 10 years show early warning signs for heart disease.
  • Type 2 diabetes can no longer be called "adult onset" because of rising rates in children.
  • Obesity rates have doubled in children and tripled in adolescents over the last two decades. One in seven young people are obese, and one in three are overweight.
  • From 1979 to 1999, annual hospital costs for treating obesity-related illnesses in children rose threefold (from $35 million to $127 million).

But don't just think of statistics. Think of the child you know who represents those numbers. Children's health is a public health issue and we need to act now.

Better school food must be provided to every school-age child. Whole foods and fresh fruits and vegetables are necessary to build and sustain healthy bodies and brains, which support strong physical and mental health. Unhealthy ingredients must be permanently removed from our schools and the daily diets of our children in order to reverse the damage already done. The resources spent treating chronic diseases strain on our health care system. We can pay now, or pay later.

Oakland, Calif.-based Revolution Foods thinks it might have a solution. The four-year-old company turns out thousands of made-from-scratch meals -- such as roasted chicken with yams, beans, a locally grown peach and a carton of milk -- that meet all Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. It shuns high-fructose corn syrup and trans fats and includes only hormone- and antibiotic-free milk and meat and all-natural ingredients. The price, between $2.90 and $3 per lunch, is not much higher than the current $2.68 the government pays.

The food "is quite different than before," said Olson, who had tasted Revolution Foods' meals during summer school. "None of the vegetables are frozen, and there's a wider variety of what they get to eat. Before, you could visibly see the grease on the entrees; now you don't."

Founders Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey conceived Revolution Foods when they were students at the Haas School of Business at the University of California at Berkeley. In spring 2006, the pair launched their first pilot program at an Oakland, Calif., school. By year's end, the new company was serving 10 schools. "We heard all the reasons why it couldn't be done: Kids won't eat healthy food. It's too expensive," said Richmond, 34. "But it was clear demand was there."

Schools’ Toughest Test: Cooking

“The principal, Laura Mastrogiovanni, readily admits that food wasn’t on her radar when she took over in 2005. The cafeteria keeps a separate budget and cooks don’t report to her. But when Mrs. Barlatier arrived in 2007 and started to improve the food, it didn’t take long to see that the children not only ate more of it but seemed happier at lunch.

‘They needed a little flair in their food,” Mrs. Mastrogiovanni said. “It’s good for their brains."


Also on the subject - check out the trailer for the new documentary, "Food, Inc" -


Anonymous said...


I am a parent and I have a master's in Food and Nutrition. I work in the health care area. The problem is not as easy as you may think. To keep lunches at the price that is low all school systems get food that is provided through the government suppport. There are few choices in what a school will be given, There have been some changes such as less salt, sugar and fried items. But, the changes in school lunches will have to come not only from the local level but also the government. It is not just being over weight that can cause health issues, it is also the kinds of foods that individuals are eating. Also, it is important to keep the cost of schol lunches low. There are many students that get their most balanced lunch at schools. But you are right, schools do need to be provided with the options of more healthy choices in all schools. Schools that have a large student body and strong parent support are able to provide more options, but all of our students in both small and large schools need more heathy options, but this is something that cannot just be solved at the local level.

Cerebration said...

Have you all seen the documentary, "Supersize Me"? It's a must - see. All of our kids should see this movie - it should be required in health class.

Cerebration said...

Nutritious food in our schools is vital to so many children - it's often the only meal they get all day.


U. S. Department of Agriculture released a report on Monday that showed 1 in 5 children in America hungry--and these numbers are from late 2008, before the effects of the Wall Street heist set in:
In 2008, the report found, nearly 17 million children -- more than one in five across the United States -- were living in households in which food at times ran short, up from slightly more than 12 million youngsters the year before. And the number of children who sometimes were outright hungry rose from nearly 700,000 to almost 1.1 million.
Among people of all ages, nearly 15 percent last year did not consistently have adequate food, compared with about 11 percent in 2007, the greatest deterioration in access to food during a single year in the history of the report.

Anonymous said...

Every school should have a school garden. Providing some fresh veggies is secondary to using it as a teaching tool. Cliff Valley School has a great little garden.

If Superintendent Lewis is going to have a bloated beyond reason administrative staff, they need to have cutting edge programs such as school gardens to justify the huge amount we spend on administrative salaries.

The DeKalb Extension Service is a great resource to help with school gardens.

Anonymous said...

The recently released to video movie "Food, Inc." is another worth watching for those wishing to learn more about the big picture and politics surrounding America's obesity crisis.

Cerebration said...

I'll check that out -- and here's one more - it's a book called, Twinkie, Deconstructed: My Journey to Discover How the Ingredients Found in Processed Foods Are Grown, Mined (Yes, Mined), and Manipulated Into What America Eats

Here's a review from Amazon -

This is probably the best book that you'll find detailing on how our food is made. The process is complex and world-wide for even simple things. The Twinkie stands in as a perfect example food. This isn't an expose book. Ettlinger briefly mentions how many of the chemical makers have moved their environment-unfriendly processes to other countries. Many caustic chemicals are used somewhere along the line in these processes, but supposedly none leave any harmful effects. Ettlinger doesn't delve in these topics, concluding that everything is very safe. Many ingredients are safe, but then again many are called "safe" by the makers and then the FDA stamps approval.

Cerebration said...

On the "Food, Inc" movie, here are some bullet points from the SF Chronicle -

Among the points that galvanized the filmmakers:

-- In 1972, the Food and Drug Administration conducted 50,000 food safety inspections; in 2006, the FDA conducted 9,164.

-- During the George W. Bush administration, the head of the FDA was the former executive vice president of the National Food Processors Association, and the chief of staff at the U.S. Department of Agriculture was the former chief lobbyist for the beef industry in Washington.

-- Cattle are given feed that their bodies are not designed to digest, resulting in new strains of the E. coli virus that sicken tens of thousands of Americans annually.

-- One in 3 Americans born after 2000 will contract early-onset diabetes; among minorities, the rate will be 1 in 2.

Read more:

I'll try to add the video trailer to the article - this is a great film!

Anonymous said...

We have a good county Board of Health, but they don't inspect school kitchens and cafeteria's as much as they should, or as thorough as they should.

Anonymous said...

School kitchens are inspected at the same frequency as other restaurant kitchen facilities. The inspection reports can be found on the Dekalb Health Department website.

Anonymous said...

We feed the kids way too much fried foods. Their french fried and not baked. This goes for the breaded good that they eat as well. When I grew up, all of this was baked.

Baking the food would take longer, but it would be so much healthier.

As with many things in DCSS, we can do better for our kids, but it's easier not to.

Pattie Baker said...

Here's what I found when I "fell down the rabbit hole" of the National School Lunch Program:

Some things have changed (more school gardens now, plus some additional pilot farm-to-school initiatives, and the national conversation about school lunch is heating up) but in general, this is still pretty up to date.

Cerebration said...

Great article, Patty. Below is a quote that I think states the crux of the problem -

Numerous roadblocks emerged, including the necessity for farms to have enough reliable produce to meet ongoing needs of entire school districts, appropriate refrigerated transport and storage accommodations, time and money constraints, dedicated staff to champion these efforts, kitchen space for preparation of fresh produce, and even insurance issues in the event of food-borne contamination.

What’s more, Georgia’s high level of poverty means that many children eat breakfast, lunch, and after-school snacks as part of the National School Lunch Program. Because these may be their only meals of the day, meeting basic nutritional needs is critical. Gourmet salad greens are not.

The former director of nutrition for DCSS spoke at an ELPC meeting once. She enlightened me that school lunch has become basically a challenge to see if the cafeteria can provide foods that contain the proper "nutrition" (read that vitamin/mineral-enriched) that children will actually eat. For example, she showed us what looked like a donut, however, it was basically a decent-tasting glob of vitamin-enriched ingredients.

It's not about 'food' in our enormous school systems - it's about nutritional supplementation. Read up on the ingredients in a Twinkie...and pack your kid a lunch from home.

Paula Caldarella said...

While our school lunches still have far to go - they've come a long way. If you will take a look at the menus, there seems to me to be a bigger emphasis on fruits and vegetables than there once was - even since my children were in elementary school.

Paula Caldarella said...

School gardens are a marvelous idea - but what is the reality here? These gardens would take a huge committment from schools, and most especially parents. There are schools, such as Vanderlyn, that have enormous parental support and could handle a school garden. However, there are schools that cannot get parents to set foot in those schools - how do you work it in those schools?

Anonymous said...

In the small town where I grew up, my grandmother ran the school cafeteria. She and several great cooks prepared plenty of good food for the kids. And they sold their fried chicken and fresh baked yeast rolls to the community. It was good solid home cooking. No wonder my part of the country is the most obese in America. I know it was much healthier, though, than the processed crap served our students now.

Anonymous said...

School gardens can be maintained at middle and high schools by students with just one or two involved teachers and parents. It's at the elem schools where involved parents and teachers are needed to make a school garden happen.

It's really not too much to ask and there is a clear educational component. School gardens happen in well run school systems. City of Decatur schools just added one at their pre-K location, with parents doing the bulk of the work. The children have realy liked using the garden for outdoor leassons.

Anonymous said...

The vast majority of parents want schools to limit students' access to high-calorie chips, sodas and candy and to offer them opportunities for physical activity throughout the day, a new survey by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation shows. The national survey signals the breadth of parents' support for changes to make schools healthier places—and their willingness to help make those changes happen. In fact, nearly eight in 10 parents are ready to get more involved to create a healthier environment in their local schools.

You Can Help a School Get Healthy

Parents, community members and students are making a huge difference in schools across the country by making sure there are plenty of healthy foods and physical activity opportunities at school.

Take Action
-Meet your child’s teachers and administrators, and become a positive voice for your children’s health.
-Learn what your child’s school has pledged to do to advance student wellness by becoming familiar with the School Wellness Policy.
-Join the School Wellness Council to take an active role in helping a school in your community become healthier.
For more ideas to help a school get healthy, join the Healthy Schools Program,

Anonymous said...

School Playgrounds Are an Underused Resource

School playgrounds that are accessible to children on weekends may also promote exercise. Focusing on the same sample of sixth-grade girls, researchers visited 407 school playgrounds within a half-mile radius of the homes of the girls. Results showed that 66 percent of the schools were unlocked on weekends, although the percentage of available school facilities varied substantially among different cities (see the table). But only 57 percent of schools both were unlocked and had accessible facilities, such as playgrounds, athletic fields, basketball courts, and paved playing areas. The majority of locked and inaccessible playgrounds were in poor and minority neighborhoods.

Although the study did not find a relationship between school accessibility and increased weekend physical activity rates, the number of locked schools was associated with significantly higher body mass index for girls (body mass index is a mathematical formula representing weight relative to height that can be used to determine whether a person is overweight or underweight). The fact that girls with a higher body mass index tended to live in areas with locked schools could signal that the girls live in a more stressful, high-crime area, which would create incentives for them to remain indoors, or in a neighborhood with access to stores that sell unhealthy food. Stress itself is associated with obesity due to higher secretions of the stress hormone cortisol, which increases fat deposits.

Anonymous said...

You don't have to be in Dunwoody to do gardens. Knollwood school has just established a school garden using Master Gardener volunteers, volunteers from Organizing for America and Wonderland Gardens and student after school volunteers. The teachers at Knollwood and the volunteers write grants to finance the garden and tie it into their science, social studies, health, and math cirriculum. The Healthy Belvedere group also supports the effort. Part of the experience is tasting fruits and vegetables and learning about healthy diets along with working outside instead of at a computer. I suspect that the Knollwood garden project is one of many in all parts of the county.

The Organizing for American volunteers also tutor students in math and reading.

Cerebration said...

I found out today that Rachael Ray is getting in on improving school lunches!

From UPI -

NEW YORK, Oct. 24 (UPI) -- Celebrity chef Rachael Ray says she hopes to provide the New York public school system with new lunch recipes every month.

The host of "The Rachael Ray Show" is working with the city's public schools to offer New York students tasty, but also healthy, lunches, the New York Post reported Saturday.

The food program involving Ray, who also hosts series such as "30 Minute Meals" and "$40 a Day," begins Monday at Public School 89/IS 289 in Manhattan.

The Post said eventually as many as 600,000 students in the school system will get to eat the Ray-inspired lunches.

Parents interested in her recipes will be able to access them on the celebrity chef's Web site.

Cerebration said...

Sobering news for Georgia's children - they are getting hungrier.

From Atlanta Unfiltered:

No turkey & gravy for some: Ga. drops to 4th worst in hunger ranking

November 25, 2009 --

As families gather for Thanksgiving, we should consider that in just a decade Georgia has deteriorated from average (ranking 22nd) to 4th highest for food insecurity in the nation. One in seven Georgia households experienced food insecurity during 2006-2008, according to the USDA. These sobering numbers highlight the importance of focusing solutions on combating hunger and poverty in our communities.

Follow this link for the whole story.