Eating-in for Healthy School Lunches

Goodlifer: Eating-in for Healthy School Lunches

You can raise your kids on the most conscious diet of local, farm-fresh, organic food, and find that once they start school, all your efforts are instantly undercut. Unless you happen to live in a particularly affluent or educated area, school lunches frequently contain the worst kinds of junk food — pizza, hamburgers, french fries and sugary sodas. Fresh fruit and vegetables are rarely ever on the menu. The extremely high rates of childhood obesity and Type II diabetes are in no small way related to this lack of access to real food in schools.

On Labor Day, over 20,000 people in all 50 states gathered together at nearly 300 volunteer-organized “Eat-ins” to show their support for real food in schools. This was part of Slow Food USA’s Time for Lunch campaign, a petition to get real food into schools. Slow Food USA reports that “the collective result has been impressive: [the event] attracted the attention and appetites of state and federal policy-makers and received over 250 local and national media hits, and thousands of people signed on to [the] Time for Lunch petition.”

Eat-in at San Francisco's Civic Center Plaza. Photo by mental.masala, Creative Commons.

Eat-in at San Francisco’s Civic Center Plaza. Photo by mental.masala, Creative Commons.

The Williamsburg Eat-in was organized by Erica Lonesome from the Brooklyn Food Coalition and healthy food advocate Michelle Grey Campion, founder of the Epi-Cure blog. The event was held at the Bridget wine bar (yes, wine bar) beneath the Williamsburg bridge. The kids participated in a cooking demonstration with Annie Novak from Rooftop Farms and her team of Growing Chefs. The fresh basil and walnut pesto they made was reportedly delicious and — most importantly — the kids had a blast making it.

Erica from the Brooklyn Food Coalition talks about the importance of engaging congress in food justice issues at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Erica Lonesome from the Brooklyn Food Coalition talks about the importance of engaging congress in food justice issues at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Kids helping Annie Novak from Rooftop Farms make fresh basil and walnut pesto at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Kids helping Annie Novak from Rooftop Farms make fresh basil and walnut pesto at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

There was also a screening of the film What’s on your plate?, a project by two eleven-year-old girls from New York City who decided to question the origin of the food they eat, how it’s prepared, who prepares it, and where the packaging and leftovers end up. They visit the supermarkets, fast food chains, and school lunchrooms, but also discover innovative sustainable food system practices by going to farms, greenmarkets, and community supported agriculture programs. A very good film to watch with your children and get them engaged through their peers.

Children is deep discussion over healthy plates (made from 100% recyclable bamboo) of food at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Children in deep discussion over healthy plates (made from 100% recyclable bamboo) of food at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Fledgling food activists at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

Fledgling food activists at the Williamsburg Eat-in. Photo by Williamsburg Eat-in.

NYC-based food blogger Cathy Erway, whose blog is wholly dedicated to the practice of Eating-in, went to the Eat-in at the Campos Community Garden on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. This event was hosted by Eating Liberally, a blog written by Kerry Trueman, and co-organized by Matt Rosen, also of Eating Liberally and Retrovore.com, Paula Crossfield from Civil Eats, and Katherine Goldstein, The Huffington Post Green Editor. Erway says the highlight was a cooking demo by Lorna Sass, author of numerous cookbooks, who demonstrated how quick it is to cook kale in a pressure cooker.

Lorna Sass doing a cooking demonstration for children at the Lower East Side Eat-in. Photo by Cathy Erway.

Lorna Sass doing a pressure-cooking demonstration for children at the Lower East Side Eat-in. Photo by Cathy Erway.

Erway talks about the event: “I thought the food was very impressive, overall! People might be turned off at the sound of ‘potluck’ because it brings back memories of some heinous spread from long ago, but it was truly delicious. Everyone seemed to opt for beautiful, fresh veggies and fruits for a summer salad, some with pasta, others with beans, etc. I brought a curry potato salad with corn, peppers, and a few other fresh vegetables. Best part, hands-down, was Kerry’s homemade ice cream concoctions — one was a ‘three sisters garden’ flavor with squash, corn and beans (sweet and spicy and amazing), another, that was actually the best (and vegan!) was made with all sorts of nut butters and coconut milk. Everyone, including kids and grown-ups who’d stumbled upon the scene went for the ice cream first, and loved it.”

Potluck spread at the Lower East Side Eat-in. Photo by Cathy Erway.

Potluck spread at the Lower East Side Eat-in. Photo by Cathy Erway.

How is it that the most unhealthy foods are what we consider as belonging on the kids menu? Children need proper nutrition more than any of us. Anyone with children knows that they know good food when they taste it. They just need to be given an appropriate point of entry. It is the job of all parents, sisters, brothers and friends to make sure that they don’t contribute to a vicious circle by conditioning children to get used to (and hooked on) unhealthy foodlike substances that are cleverly engineered to appeal to our most basic caveman senses without any regard to what the ingredients actually do to their bodies. The FDA does nothing to protect us, it seems to work more to protect the interests of the Monsanto’s of the world. We have to stop this, and bring back our right, and our children’s right, to real food. Not just in schools, but what better place to start?

Who needs sugary candy when there are sweet grapes to devour? At the Eat-in at NYC's PS 217. Photo by Sustainable Flatbush, Creative Commons.

Who needs sugary candy when there are sweet grapes to devour? At the Eat-in at NYC’s PS 217. Photo by Sustainable Flatbush, Creative Commons.

The Eat-in may have been a huge success, but Slow Food USA’s work has only begun in the fight to get real food in schools. Visit the site to find out how you can get involved and help. During September, you can join by making a donation in any amount you wish, money that will help the organization to keep applying pressure and force our legislators to take notice. Slow Food USA works directly to impact national and local food policies, from the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Act to the Farm Bill, the goal is to build alliances, bring in key industry experts and head to Washington to demand change.

Say no to soggy tater tots, mystery meat, fast food and refined sugar!

Kids know what they need! Young advocates at the Eat-in in Decatur, GA. Photo by Slow Food USA.

Kids know what they need! Young advocates at the Eat-in in Decatur, GA. Photo by Slow Food USA.

Top photo by Slow Food USA. See more photos from Eat-ins around the country here.

About author
A designer by trade, Johanna has always had a passion for storytelling. Born and raised in Sweden, she's lived and worked in Miami, Brooklyn and, currently, Ojai, CA. She started Goodlifer in 2008 to offer a positive outlook for the future and share great stories, discoveries, thoughts, tips and reflections around her idea of the Good Life. Johanna loves kale, wishes she had a greener thumb, and thinks everything is just a tad bit better with champagne (or green juice).
1 comment on this postSubmit yours
  1. It’s really an important thing to serve our kids always healthy and energetic food in their lunch item. It’s helps them to grow their health because it’s a perfect time for improving their health.So we should careful about that.

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