Everyone has an opinion about school food.
That’s because everyone who has attended school is a subject matter expert—those who finished high school have been exposed to approximately 2,400 lunches that were either eaten, ignored, or trashed. Our consciousness of the nutritional value and quality of ingredients of these meals heightens when we send our own children off to school. Without truly knowing what is in these lunches and breakfasts, parents with the financial means pack lunch each day for their children. But for approximately 80% of the families sending their children to public schools in Baltimore, this is not a viable option.
Certainly, there are many contributing factors in society that are to blame for the decline in health for America’s youth. Isolating food served in schools is shortsighted. However, we do know that a learning opportunity for healthy eating habits is, for the most part, lost in our schools.
- Obesity is a major epidemic in America that claims 300,000 lives each year.
- African-American women are 70% more likely to be obese than non-Hispanic whites.
- African-American children are 1.3 times as likely to be overweight than their non-Hispanic counterparts.
- In Baltimore City, 37% of all students in high school are overweight or at-risk of becoming overweight.
Schools serve as the primary source of nutrition for millions of American schoolchildren. Unfortunately, existing food options have not served this population well. With the rate of increase in the costs of labor and goods exceeding the adjustments in federal reimbursement rates, school districts face the daunting task of delivering nutritious and appealing meals at minimal cost. Some school districts opt to outsource some or all the food service operation to private companies who deliver a marginally better product. However, these companies must generate profits, thereby skewing the incentive to provide the most nutritious and delicious foods possible.
But what if there was another option—one that placed taste and quality of meals above all else? What if the bottom line was students’ educational and health outcomes? What if schools’ kitchens were utilized to actually cook food? What if nutrition and etiquette were part of the educational curriculum? What if commodities could be purchased locally? What if a prominent chef were to serve as the creative force in designing delicious and nutritious meals?
A non-profit organization specializing in school food production is a fresh new alternative. A non-profit organization would hire staff to utilize the cooking kitchens already in place in schools, and reinvest all revenue back into the quality and production of meals. A local “celebrity chef” would spearhead the creation of the menus and generate significant interest. Participating schools would commit to funding a nutrition and etiquette leader to compliment the meals served. Baltimore has gained national attention with its recent focus to emphasize the value of proper nutrition in schools. Any school district will find it easy to integrate a non-profit model within its overall food program.
With today’s scarce resources, all initiatives must demonstrate effectiveness through measurable results. This non-profit would be the first food provider in the nation to partner with prominent health institutions to administer and analyze the relationship between healthy meals consumed and educational and health outcomes. With favorable outcomes, this model can shift the entire school food paradigm.