Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Healthier School lunches on the chopping block in Washington D.C.

Photo courtesy of: Inhabitots

Amidst the ever-strengthening movement toward school lunch reform, voters in our nation’s capital made great progress toward that goal when they passed a tax on soft drink sales in the District this past May. The money from this tax would go toward the “‘Healthy Schools’ initiative, providing more money for school food, as well as funding local produce in school meals and establishing grants to expand school gardens and increase physical education,” as reported by Grist. But this story has changed a bit since May.

In attempts to reduce the $188 million gap in the city’s budget, Washington D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty has suggested that these designated funds be eliminated, and put toward that budget gap. Since it’s passing in May, the funds from the tax bill have been accumulating, payments to purchase every breakfast, lunch, and locally grown food component have been made, and this proposition would halt the distribution of these funds.

But many organizational activists in the D.C. area, as well as those nationally, have begun to voice their voices of opposition. Coordinator of the D.C. Farm to School Network, Andrea Northup, stated that "For the Fenty administration to champion the Healthy Schools Act as a model for the nation, and then to cut funding for the act, they have done a grave disservice to the children of the District of Columbia."

What do you think? If the plug is pulled on these healthier school lunch options today, will it ever be reinstated in D.C., or anywhere else?

Friday, November 19, 2010

Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Policy Update

Congress returned for a short work session Monday following the mid-term elections, and has a brief opportunity to pass strong child nutrition legislation that reauthorizes funding and improves standards for school food.

Under review by the House of Representatives, the Senate’s version of the Child Nutrition Reauthorization Bill would help increase access to healthy meals and would require necessary improvements to nutrition standards for school food. Even though the First Lady, White House legislative staff, and members of the Domestic Policy Council are all working hard on the bill and regard its passage as a top priority for the Administration, significant barriers still remain. Concern by Democrats about restoring the SNAP ARRA offset…

[In order to provide funding for these programs fighting hunger and obesity, the Senate cut funding from a temporary increase to the food stamp program that was included in the stimulus bill. However, families would not see a reduction in their benefits until 2013 and could possibly never; The White House has committed to finding a way restore that funding through other means.]

and concerns about increased spending from Republicans makes passing the bill challenging.

Support is needed to ensure the House leaders have enough votes to secure passage! To guarantee the bill stays on the agenda and that your representatives vote YES call Congress today by following these easy steps provided by Share Our Strength.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Nourish: Food + Community

PBS had recently aired broadcasts of a national and educational initiative called Nourish.

“Nourish is a multi-year media and education initiative. The purpose of Nourish is to open a broad public conversation about our food system that encourages citizen engagement, particularly among young people and families,” says the website.

It wants us to explore the stories behind our food by seeing the overall big picture, for us to realize the impacts our food has. Different angles like the importance of where our food comes from, who picked it, and how we, especially the younger population, can change food were shown in the 30 minute special to illustrate how we can work towards having a more sustainable system.

There are also mini videos where Michael Pollan, author of In Defense of Food, speaks on the government subsidizing the wrong foods like high fructose corn syrup going into processed complex creations like Twinkies instead of carrots from the ground.

And I want to know why is that, when pressing health problems such as our obesity rate is so high??

In another mini video, Jamie Oliver says, “food is like music” because food is “a creative thing.” He says food be taken in a thousand different ways, but like music, you can take it in a direction that you want and love.

Here is the trailer:

Check out the minivid where Michael Pollan touches on how much the US spends on food compared to other parts of the world and how the changes correlate to the changes in health care spending.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Recess Before Lunch Encourages Healthier Eating Habits and Better Behavior

Photo credit: Kirsten Luce for The New York Times

Not only is recess an integral part of the student’s day, its timing is also significant. A New York Times article discusses the benefits schools are observing as a result of scheduling recess before lunch- less plate waste and an increase in fruit, vegetable, milk and water consumption.

Kids often rush through their lunch in order to get outside, leaving much of their food uneaten. By having recess first, kids feel as if they have more time to eat, leading to less plate waste. Because of this, kids are less likely to become hungry or feel sick later in the day.

Schools have reported other benefits including fewer behavior problems, a more relaxed eating environment, and a reduced number of nurse visits. This is attributed to fewer headaches and stomachaches that result from physical activity directly after eating—“One child told school workers that he was happy he didn’t throw up anymore at recess.”

For some schools, recess first also means more time to teach. Typically, kids need a cool down period after recess in order to relax and refocus on school work. Since kids have a chance to unwind during lunch, teachers now have 10-15 minutes of extra classroom time.

While school staff report some logistical challenges that make them reluctant to switch—making sure kids wash their hands before lunch (which students should be doing anyways, whether it is before or after recess), distributing lunch cards while kids are coming in from recess rather than while they are sitting at their desks, and visits to lockers between recess and lunch- the pilot programs demonstrate many advantages for both students and teachers that appear to outweigh the challenges.

One important concern children’s health experts raise is that this switch may not work in many urban school districts where lower-income children come to school hungry. Programs that feed breakfast to all students are important to ensure kids are not ravenous by lunch time and can enjoy the benefits of waiting until after recess to eat.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Portion Distortion

Photo source: http://hp2010.nhlbihin.net/oei_ss/PD1/slide23.htm

It’s no surprise that obesity rates have escalated when you look at how portion sizes have changed over the past 20 years.

According to the National Lung, Heart and Blood Institute, 20 years ago, a typical bagel measured 3 inches in diameter (140 calories). Nowadays, the bagel has grown to be 6 inches in diameter and 350 calories- a 150% increase in calories per portion. In the past 20 years, we have added 400 calories to our serving size of French fries by increasing the portion size from 2.4 ounces to 6.9 ounces and have increased our spaghetti and meatball portion size (from 500 to 1, 025 calories per portion) to over half of the daily intake recommended by the USDA.

The extensive increase has caused healthy options to become unhealthy if eating the increase portion sizes for most of your meals. 20 years ago, a typical turkey sandwich totaled 320 calories, while turkey sandwiches today are closer to 820 calories.

These larger portion sizes add up. An additional 100 calories per day to your diet equals an additional 10 pounds in weight gain a year if you do not change your amount of physical activity.

Proper knowledge of portion sizes is extremely important. Not only is it important for controlling overeating, but it is also critical in ensuring daily recommendations are consumed. That is why OSP makes certain to teach kids about appropriate serving sizes, equipping kids with tools to make healthy choices.

Here are some familiar markers from eatbetteramerica to help you gauge exactly how much you are eating:

· Three ounces of red meat, fish, or poultry—a standard portion—is about the size of a flip-style cell phone.

· One cup of vegetables or an average portion of fruit is about the size of a tennis ball.

· One ounce of cheese is about the size of four dice.

· A medium baked potato is about the size of a computer mouse.

· One teaspoon of butter is about the size of a postage stamp.

· One ounce of peanut butter is about the size of a roll of film.

Take a look at your meals with these visual cues in mind. You might find that there's far more on your plate than you realized.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cool for School

Check this out!

Wellness in the Schools (WITS) is a non-profit, community based organization founded in 2005 in order to improve the environment, nutrition, and fitness in NYC public schools.”

The organization wants to fight obesity ad improve school environments. They have three programs: Cook for Kids, Green for Kids, and Coach for Kids.

Cook for Kids

WITS sends culinary school graduates to NYC public schools to educate students and families about the importance of eating whole, unprocessed food. They go into the school kitchens, make meals from scratch and serve them to 6,500 students.

Green for Kids

Works with other NYC environmental efforts. Their signature program was launched to help make sure schools used effective bio-based cleaning products that are not harmful to children and the planet.

Coach for Kids

During recess, trained coaches encourage the least active children to participate in exciting fun activities. They also help to ward off bullying.

This is a win-win situation. Culinary graduates can cook for a cause and kids can enjoy and learn about real food!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Passion about Food Science in Harvard University

A recent Boston Globe article from last week reported that the number one course at Harvard University this fall was a food science course entitled, Science and Cooking: From Haute Cuisine to Soft Matter Science. The course was applied for by about 700 students, of which only 300 were chosen through a lottery. Some students wrote essays and appeals in attempts to increase their chance of admittance to the course.

The interest in the course came as an unexpected surprise to University directors, though the beefing up the otherwise home-economics style course with a long list of food superstars surely added to the buzz and interest. The class is being taught in a collaborative effort between Harvard professors and some of the world’s most celebrated chefs: Ferran Adria, whose restaurant outside of Barcelona, Spain, has been recognized as the best in the world; New York chefs Wylie Dufresne and Dan Barber; White House chef Bill Yosses; Chicago’s own Grant Achatz; and food writer, Harold McGee.

It is very interesting to see such a peak in student interest in food at what many consider the most prestigious University in the world.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Fit to Learn

A new program “focused on innovative, practical approaches to making health and wellness a regular part of the classroom experience,” was announced by the Healthy School Campaign recently.

Through the program, teachers will become “wellness mentors,” where they will develop and share ways to integrate nutrition and fitness into the classroom that meet Illinois standards in math, science, reading, social studies, art and music!

The program is recruiting CPS K-5 teachers to participate in the new professional development program.

This is a great because all subjects are included in the integration, meaning kids with different interests can all be incorporated.

Visit http://www.fittolearn.org to learn more!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

OSP in the News

In a recent Chicago Tribune article dated October 19, 2010, OSP Founder and Executive Director, Greg Christian, addressed policies that prohibit the use of produce from school gardens in CPS cafeterias.

“It was good enough to use for cooking demonstrations and good enough to send home with the kids but not good enough to feed kids in their lunch,” Christian stated. This quote highlights Christian’s question as to why kids had permission to eat the garden produce at home and during demonstrations, but not in the cafeteria at lunch—a question that he voiced to opposition of serving school-grown produce at Alcott Elementary School in 2007.

As writer Monica Eng correctly points out, it is harvest time and the student grown vegetables are plentiful, providing a great opportunity to inspire children to eat healthy food. As studies suggest, kids are much more likely to try and eat more vegetables and whole foods when they, or a friend, has had a hand in growing them. However, rules set by the district and its meal provider, Chartwells-Thompson, prevent the relationship between children and the food that they’ve grown at school from fully developing.
Currently, Chartwells-Thompson requires specific, certified growing practices for food grown in school gardens, if it is to be served in school cafeterias.

Amid increasing concern about the food students are consuming while at school, CPS is missing out on comprehensive, all-inclusive approach to get healthy food and nutrition education into the mouths and minds of its students.

Read the full article from the Tribune here.