Last week the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act Nutrition Bill passed in the senate with flying colors - and while you may not need convincing that this bill is a step in the right direction - here is my take on why the Nutrition Bill matters and why we should dream big when it comes to the big picture story of kids and food. This is a longer-than-normal post, discussing an issue close to my heart: kids nutrition. I hope you will take the time to read, comment and discuss.
Even if you aren't a parent, most everyone has or will have a child in their life who they love dearly. This issue touches us all. My reflections and big dreams..
A Bit of Background...
The Washington Post reported,
"The Senate passed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act on Thursday, a bill that provides an additional $4.5 billion over 10 years to federal child nutrition programs including school lunch. If signed into law, it will be the first time that the federal government has increased funding for the programs in 30 years."
In regards to vegetarian efforts, Veg News reported,
"The Child Nutrition Bill cleared the House committees with added vegetarian amendments. The $8 billion bill for the proposed Improving Nutrition for America’s Children Act now has an added $1 million vegetarian pilot program. Additionally, the committees added trial programs for increased organic foods and vegan foods...."
The bottom line: 1) funding. Funding for a wide variety of programs aiming to improve the health of kids via the foods they eat. The invisible weapon: 2) intention. The Bill shows that our nation has good intentions for the health of our kids. Will we - can we - deliver healthy results?
Why the Nutrition Bill Matters: Even skeptics of increased government funding for programs have to agree that 1) education is crucially important in our country. And 2) no amount of education, from math to social studies to science, chemistry and literature is going to make a difference in a child's future if that child is unhealthy. Health is number one.
...If you haven't learned that lesson yet - you will. At some point in your life you may get ill, or a loved one will get ill and the only thing that will matter is getting well. Wellness. Without a well state - you cannot succeed in anything. And that includes school.
But I do want to stress that health is relative for everyone - what is healthy for me - may be very different than what is considered healthy to you. The point is that we should all strive to take care of ourselves and preserve what health we do have. But this essay is about kids. School kids. And the food they eat everyday to fuel their minds and bodies. And for the kids, I like to dream big...
This is what school lunches could look like in my dreams..
A few yummy details of my dream school lunch...
Organic Local Blueberries..
Who Needs Tuna..when you can have Tu-Nut on Spelt Bread with carrots...
Silken Tofu Chocolate-Berry-Almond Pudding...
It's no secret that our kids need help. Childhood obesity and type two diabetes rates continue to soar and as a nation we need to come together and help the kids in our backyard and kids we have never met.
Unhealthy kids will surely lead to an unhealthy future. Bypassing "health" on our list of priorities for "childhood education" is a horrific and doomful thing to do. Healthy kids are more focused and energized - which in turn leads to a greater ability to learn - which leads to lifelong success, wellness and happiness.
I am pleased about the Nutrition Bill - but the bill is only a door opening. What we carry through that door will define if we are successful on the other side or not.
While I am not skilled enough to discuss the vast complexities of this bill - I do know how to dream big and envision healthy kids. So here are my hopes and big dreams for what the bill could mean for kids and our nation's food future.
My Big Dreams for Improving Food in Schools:
1) I Love Tempeh! More kids will be exposed to a diverse, wide variety of healthy alternative foods at a younger age. Foods like tempeh, seitan, edamame, quinoa, spelt, coconut water, nutritional yeast, soy/almond/hemp milk, non-mainstream produce items like papaya and goji berries, soy ice cream, vegan cheese and many more..
2) I'll Take the Veggie Burger Please! More kids will be offered vegan plant-based options when they choose to dine in a school environment - and more kids will see other kids enjoying plant-based options. Eating plant-based foods will become acceptable and even delicious and "cool" to kids.
3) I Know Where Those Nuggets Have Been. More kids will learn where their food comes from. And no, your apple didn't come from a supermarket. Your chicken nuggets didn't come from a freezer box. Everything you eat has an origin and those origins have consequences.
4) I Grew These Tomatoes! More kids will be able to produce their own food and get involved in farm-to-table growing programs that teach kids the skills of gardening as well as an appreciation for fresh, local foods as opposed to "tourist produce" from far away.
5) I Cooked This Meal Myself! More kids will be given school-based opportunities to get involved in the cooking process of their meals. Nutrition and cooking classes will be essential and kids will learn to make their own lunches and acquire the skills to feed themselves healthy plant-based foods - for their lifetime.
A girl can dream big right? Lets all dream big together. I can see it happening. Can you?
Now I take a step back and reflect on my childhood and how school foods impacted my path to health and veganism...
My Big Picture Analysis...
Health Comes First. When I named my blog "Healthy Happy Life" my husband asked my why I didn't name it Happy Healthy Life. I stand firm that Healthy comes first. Always. Without health, you cannot have happiness in your life. This fact should be the same for our kids.
Adults and Food. You stare at the clock around noon and your stomach gurgles. Is it lunch yet? Your lunch break finally hits and you and your co-workers split in all directions grabbing lunch bags or lining up to use the lunchroom microwave. Maybe you even swing around the block to grab a to-go sandwich or salad at your favorite neighborhood joint - maybe a Starbucks tea or smoothie. Adults have options. Lots of them. Kids don't.
Lunchtime for kids means sitting down in a cafeteria with two options: what was brought from home or what is offered at school. No matter what you send your child off to school with (money, a lunchbox, or a lunch ticket) - every option at school will have a mental impact on your child. The challenge: making healthy plant-based options the "cool" and desired option in a child's mind (and stomach).
Even if your child is packed a to-go Pure Food and Wine raw vegan meal, coconut water to drink and a giant bag of farmers market produce to snack on - that child will still be exposed to what other kids are eating. And what is served at school. That double cheese greasy pizza with a side of chocolate milk and french fries will still be in view. And maybe even "the cool" thing to eat. What kind of message are we sending our kids if the same place we serve them esteemed education, spelling tests and math books is serving them low quality, pathetically unhealthy food options?
My Memories. It's funny how horribly I remember eating in school when the food came from school. In Junior High I remember kids running at the lunch bell to get in line to buy slices of Dominos pepperoni or cheese pizza and a soda - before the pizza ran out.
Running, sprinting..it was a free for all to get that pizza! If the pizza had run out, the next favorite option was a greasy bean and cheese burrito. No veggies, just high fat beans and cheese wrapped in an enormous flour tortilla. After that there was chips, doughnuts, candy, soda and fruit juice. And if healthy snacks were there - no one bought them. Even a healthy adult vegan like me remembers eating more than a few slices of cheese pizza and tubes of powdered doughnuts back in school. I cringe thinking about how happy those foods made me.
And the crazy part is that this was Northern California - Santa Cruz - an area known for healthy vegetarian living - farmer's markets and fresh produce everywhere. At home I ate healthy foods, but the unhealthy options (viewing my friends eating or eating them myself) still saturated my daily "food story" at school. Bad habits can die hard.
My Awakening. Finally in high school I put down the fluorescent blue Poweraide and bag of Cool Ranch Doritos and started reading labels and nutrition books by trailblazers like Marilu Henner - who was leading the charge of dairy-free vegan living.
Marilu's best-selling Total Health Makeover book really did change my adolescent life in a number of ways. But I was also conflicted. What had I been eating for the past 16 years of my life?? Was my mom right? Was I really supposed to eat my veggies and trash the junk foods all my friends and I loved? Yes I was! I was shamed because I had bought the doughnuts. I grabbed the chips. I craved fast food.
Then suddenly a switch flipped. I got it. The veil had lifted and I was frightened by what I saw. The reality of food in America can be a scary one. I ran screaming from junk food once I fully realized just what I was eating all those years by my own choice. I jumped off a cliff so to speak...
For me, it was like jumping off a rocky cliff into a high tide ocean. Not the easiest transition to make. Jumping off cliffs can be dangerous stuff. That's why it's our job as adults to guide teens and kids down the cliff - carefully so they can grab a boat and sail away on their healthy adult life.
Lucky for me, I had that profound realization. The same schools that brought me lifelong skills in science, writing, math and the arts had been betraying me when it came to lunchtime. The most basic skills of how to eat well and where my food came from were being ignored. Sure there were glimpses of the nutrition pyramid in health class and a food groups chart on the wall in the nurses room - but actually - those guides are ones that I shun today. Dairy, meat and eggs - not in my fridge. Milk free. Meat free. Eggs are not so incredible to me. So looking back I have to ask my school: Where was My Healthy Food Pyramid??
Thank goodness for my parents. And books. And Marilu. And PETA. Yes, PETA. My parents and my healthy city surroundings gave me the healthy food tools I craved to succeed in eating well. And PETA enlightened me to the dark side of food. My first exposure to the horrors of our nation's factory food systems: a PETA pamphlet someone handed me - somewhere. I was only about fourteen or so. I read it and cried. I read it again and cried some more. Some call those pamphlets propaganda. I call them truth-tellers.
Every child will grow up and have a different food story. A food point of view (as Food Network's NFNS show likes to call it!) No one can judge or change or shun your food point of view. But as adults we must understand the profound effect we can have both positively and negatively on a child's food story. Lets tell a good story from here on out.
Lets tell a story of health, wellness, truth and creativity, with a hands-on/can-do attitude - all with a forever goal of health and happiness in mind.
What do you think??
Tu-Nut Sandwich Recipe...