Healthy School Lunches Are Our Local Responsibility

Originally published: August 15, 2017

By: Michelle Moskowitz Brown, Executive Director 

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue spoke at the School Nutrition Association’s (SNA) annual conference last week, defending the freeze on implementing new school nutrition guidelines that would have capped sodium and added sugar levels, and required greater availability of whole grain options.

He nostalgically looked back at the beloved cinnamon rolls from his childhood lunchroom:

You know what? Back then, there was very little childhood obesity. Why’s that? Because we played outside all the time and there were nutritious meals at home,” Perdue said, to cheers. “But we know times have changed. Today you’re still responsible for providing, many times, the main meal for many children.
— Politico’s Morning Agriculture Report

Times have changed and with devastating effects on our kids. In America today,  one in three children is likely to develop diabetes – one in three! Currently, 50% of adults are diabetic or pre-diabetic. Diabetes is now the third largest cause of death in our country and the single most expensive condition to treat relative to total healthcare expenditures nationwide. We are experiencing an avoidable health epidemic. Now, Sonny Perdue is certainly right when he says our kids need more exercise, but exercise, and safe outdoor spaces are only part of the solution.

Which brings me back to those tasty cinnamon rolls. My kids eat pastries, they eat dessert. Hey, they are kids, and they enjoy an occasional cinnamon roll. But why do these need to be a part of everyday and a common breakfast option? As a mom and as Executive Director of Local Matters, I know how important it is to celebrate tasty food, but I’d prefer if the pastry was the exception, not the rule.

It is hard enough to keep our kids healthy, and even though it is challenging to do this for an entire school district, shouldn’t that be our goal, not something to mock or minimize? Currently, a school breakfast of yogurt and a cinnamon roll can have more than 31 grams of sugar. The recommended allowance for adults is just 25 grams. Why is this being normalized by the people responsible for feeding our children when they’re at school?

Despite my role at Local Matters, a food education, access and advocacy non-profit, I was not aware of how much sugar was allowable in a day until just a few years ago. If you find yourself in the same position, that isn’t your fault. This information is not on the nutritional facts label, and the move to make this more transparent is delayed as well. 

My point here is not that that eating well is easy or that the SNA is bad, or that Secretary Perdue has a fond memory for the Mayberry of his youth rather than the reality of America in 2017. Our kids’ futures are in peril in part from what they are eating and we’re being coaxed not to worry. Who is looking out for our children’s health?

I do remain optimistic. Columbus City Schools has recently invested in processing equipment that will enable it to serve sliced apples to the 55,000 students in their district (my two children included). They will not stop there – moving on to other veggies like carrots and cucumbers in the future, while also serving Ohio produced or processed food once a month to start. Even a seemingly small change like slicing apples locally instead of having a factory slice, package and deliver them –– makes kids much more likely to eat them. I know change must be well-planned and collaborative, and I applaud the district for taking this work up in earnest.

You can argue with me, but I ask you to consider: who is making the decisions about what your kids are eating and what do they care about? When did anybody ask you, the caregivers, what you want for your child when it comes to school food? There is nobody better than parents and concerned citizens to take up the charge in answering this question. Groups like Local Matters can and should be tasked with doing more in today’s world to bring healthy food education and training to our kids in Central Ohio and throughout the state.

Source: Politico’s Morning Agriculture Report