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Q
Promoting Healthy School Lunches?

It's become a daily battle to get my children to eat healthy foods at home because the school cafeteria serves up French fries, giant pretzels, cookies and ice cream. My bagged lunch simply cannot compete! I really don't feel that kids should be eating this type of food every day, and I feel powerless to change things. Any ideas?

A
Answer (Published 5/7/2007)

I understand your frustration, but I think that things are changing for the better, thanks in part to the high profile efforts of chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver in England, and determined parents everywhere. You may have read about Alice Waters' efforts to educate children about food through her Edible Schoolyard program launched 10 years ago. The kids plant gardens and eat the harvests, learning about healthy nutrition in the process. The program has been an outstanding success and has inspired similar programs elsewhere in California, and in Ohio.

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In England, celebrity chef Jamie Oliver petitioned the British government to provide more money for school meals - and succeeded in getting an extra £280 million (more than $500 million) to make school lunches healthier. He launched his own effort, as well, by delivering healthy lunches to kids in nearly 60 London schools.

As you probably know, U.S. beverage manufacturers have agreed to remove high-calorie soft drinks from schools (although they'll still sell a limited amount of fruit drinks in school vending machines and diet sodas in high schools that allow such sales). Unfortunately, some schools rely on the money they get from vending machines and junk food sales to underwrite the cost of food they provide in cafeterias. That's a sad reality that will have to change before we see widespread progress in making healthy lunches available for our kids.

I realize that the programs I've mentioned above are more the exception than the rule, but more and more parents have been banding together to press schools and school districts to provide healthier lunches, and to restrict the availability of the junk foods that are feeding the epidemic of childhood obesity. You might do some Internet research to learn more about what's being done around the country to improve matters. Take a look at the Chez Panisse Foundation Web site (http://www.chezpanisse.com/pgcpfoundation.html) to learn more about Alice Waters' mission and methods. The effort of parents and educators who are committed to the health of our schoolchildren is the only way we can bring about change. And it may have to come school-by-school before we see any national effort to eliminate junk foods. Take inspiration from what's been happening elsewhere and seek out like-minded parents in your area to set a healthy eating agenda for your schools and your children.

Finally, note that the annual nutrition and health conference that I founded makes this issue a major focus. See www.integrativemedicine.arizona.edu for details on future meetings, and specifically check out the Call to Action.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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