When I was growing up, school lunch basically looked like this:
Notice how the foods are all roughly the same brownish color aside from the oddly rosy apple cup? The inevitable sugar crash, from empty carbs, occurred around the time I'd get home from school. So I'd I'd find a smiliarily nutrient voint, blood-sugar raising snack to hold me over until dinner.
Thanks to a speedy metabolism and the occasional game of kick the can, I never worried about how much I weighed or even considered dieting. Kids today, unfortunately, may not be able to say the same. While school lunch looks the same, texting and video games have replaced bike riding, hopscotch and jump rope. Obesity is on the rise and elementary kids are being diagnosed with type 2 diabetes—totally unheard of in my day.
I follow campaigns dedicated to making over our U.S. school lunch programs with optimism, but I wonder if these often one-stop solutions for getting kids to eat healthier could really work in schools across the country.
Would it really be feasible, for example, to install a year round salad bar in Aberdeen, S.D., which is basically in the middle of nowhere and has a growing season as long as my pinky finger? How many carbon miles would be racked up trucking in fresh produce?
Going local for school lunches
I believe that changing school lunch begins with taking another look at how we eat and shop in our communities. That's why I'm loving the recent announcement from Colorado’s RE-1 school district that it's working with Crystal River Meats in Carbondale, Colo. to supply 17,000 lbs of grass fed beef in cafeterias throughout the 2012-13 school year.
“With the national news reporting on cases of pink slime at school cafeterias, we’re excited to show parents that our school children are eating healthy, natural foods from right in our backyard,” Michelle Hammond, Food Service Director from the RE-1 school district said in a release.
Since the RE-1 school district is in the heart of cattle country, it makes sense to work with local producers to bring high quality beef into schools. For another district, say schools in Marin County, Calif., doing the same would probably not be as cost effective or make much sense.
In addition to saving food miles by getting beef from neighboring ranches, grass-fed beef is lower in calories than grain-fed beef, higher in omega 3s and guarantees students high-quality protein which will sustain them throughout the day and minimize Little Debbie cravings.
I hope more districts take note of what the RE-1 district is doing and consider looking at local resources to revamp their cafeteria offerings.