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When your child starts back at school this month, you might see a professional chef in the school’s cafeteria. At the start of the summer Michelle Obama hosted 500 chefs from around the country to the White House to kick off her new initiative, Chefs Move to School. With more than 31 million school-aged children eating meals through the National School Lunch Program, the quality of the meals received at school plays a significant role in the health and well-being of children throughout the nation.
Chefs Move to School pairs professional local chefs with interested public schools. Chefs then develop a program to work with that school community and the school cafeteria staff to improve the quality of meals served at school as well as develop an integrated approach to learning about nutrition throughout the schools by offering cooking classes and demonstrations, building on-site edible gardens, and forging relationships with local farmers and food purveyors.
While addressing the chefs at the White House, the First Lady touched on the some of the challenges the chefs will face. “You’re going to need to figure out what you’re up against. You’re going to need to take time to learn your communities, to understand your schools, to figure out how the school kitchen operates, to find out what equipment is available . . . and what kind of changes the school and the community can actually sustain.”
Perhaps one of the most overwhelming obstacles is the one all schools have been facing for years—the limited amount of funding currently allotted to the school nutritional services. The average school cafeteria is allotted about $2.70 for each meal they prepare, with less than half of that money going to the cost of the food itself. School cafeteria workers currently try to feed students nutritional, balanced meals at about $1.00 to $1.25 a head.
However, the flexibility of the Chefs Moves to School Initiative allows the chefs and the community the ability to come up with creative solutions to these obstacles. For instance, local chefs could use their connections to the local food and farming community to look into ways to supplement the current breakfast and lunch programs with locally harvested fruits and vegetables.
To date, over 2,700 chefs and 700 schools have signed up for the program. If you are interested in finding out how your school could sign up for the program, you can visit www.letsmove.gov.
And while much attention is being placed on this program, there are plenty of things parents, students, and teachers can do to help improve the eating habits and overall health of its students until a chef moves to your child’s school. Here are a few to consider:
Create a School Health Advisory Committee: Parents, students and teachers can meet to evaluate ways the overall health of the campus community can be improved. The Committee can lead educational workshops on nutrition with both parents and students, introduce activities and events that get kids moving, and consider ways to enhance the food being served in the cafeteria, such as maintaining a fresh fruit and salad bar.
Bring Chefs to Your School: Chefs may not have the time or resources to fully commit to the Chefs Move to School program, but many would be happy to visit the school for the day and talk to the kids, or lead a healthy cooking demonstration.
Plant a School Garden: Planting an edible garden with the students provides a hands-on experience and a direct understanding of how food is grown.
Revamp school snacks: Provide healthy snacks at school functions. For drinks, replacing soda or sweetened juices with water naturally flavored with orange slices or cucumber is a simple way to cut calories (and costs!). Instead of asking all parents to bring desserts to an event, split the list up alphabetically and ask half of the families to bring fresh cut fruit instead.