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The State of School Lunches Slideshow

The State of School Lunches Slideshow

Edible Schoolyards

Alice Waters was a pioneer in recognizing the problem with school lunches, starting the first "Edible Schoolyard" in 1995 two years before the World Health Organization declared childhood obesity to be an epidemic. The first ESY, in collaboration with the Berkeley Unified School District, provided farm-fresh lunches, using produce grown by students, and nutritional education for students at the Martin Luther King Jr. Middle School. (It still does.)

There are now Edible Schoolyard programs in New Orleans, San Francisco, New York City, the Larchmont area of Los Angeles, and Greensboro, N.C. The program has evolved to include many aspects of schools' curricula, including essay-writing and even math. The project's announced goal is to establish Edible Schoolyards in every middle school in America.

The Renegade Lunch Lady

Chef-nutritionist Ann Cooper, otherwise known as The Renegade Lunch Lady, was brought on as the director of the Boulder Valley (Colo.) school districts nutrition services in 2008. In 2009, she founded the Food Family Farming Foundation, with the goal of making school lunches healthier by phasing out processed foods and integrating fresh, local ingredients.

Michelle Obama's Let’s Move! Campaign

Wikimedia Commons/JoyceNBoghosian

First lady Michelle Obama launched her Lets Move! initiative in February, 2010. It claims nearly one in three children in America is overweight or obese — two in five in African-American and Hispanic communities.

Yum-O!

Wikimedia Commons/The Heart Truth

In 2006, Rachael Ray used her celebrity for good when she launched a nonprofit called (unfortunately) Yum-O!. In 2010, she teamed up with New York senator Kirsten Gillibrand to lobby Congress for higher reimbursement rates per meal for schools meeting federal nutrition guidelines, and for the elimination of trans-fats from school menus.

The St. Paul, Minn., School District

istock/Corbis Photography

The St. Paul, Minn., school district has one of America's more successful healthful-lunch programs. The district has a central kitchen that distributes food to schools, using predominately local and sustainably produced ingredients to create meals from scratch. Among other things, dishes are made with reduced sodium.

Jean Ronnei, director of St. Paul Public Schools Nutrition and Commercial Services, reports that school staffers and students have shown excitement over the new program. Though Ronnei has seen more kids acquire a taste for fresh vegetables, she also mentions the harsh reality of using locally grown foods: Minnesota has a short growing season, thus limiting the availability of such ingredients for much of the year.

FoodCorps

FoodCorps, which came into being on Earth Day, 2009, is a national service program designed to improve nutrition and food awareness in public schools through nutritional education, school gardens, and farm-to-school programs. Though funded partially by AmeriCorps, the national service organization, FoodCorps is mostly dependent on donations.

Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution

In 2004, English "Naked Chef" Jamie Oliver launched a school nutrition reform campaign in Britain called Feed Me Better, gaining a government pledge of almost £300 million ($473 million) toward improving school meals. Parents at some schools where Oliver's program had been put into effect rebelled, in at least one case pushing junk food to their offspring through the fence at mealtime. But generally, the campaign has been successful.

Cook for America

Former corporate lawyer turned chef Kate Adamick co-founded Cook for America in 2006 with the idea that schools have a moral responsibility not only to nourish students, but to teach them how to nourish themselves. Offering five-day Culinary Boot Camps for school "lunch teachers" (not "lunch ladies"), Adamick wants to ensure that 90 pecent of the food that a child eats during the day doesn't come in a package or box, but instead resembles something our grandparents would recognize as good in its truest essence. Cook for America has been so successful, says Adamick, that they are desperately trying to keep up with the demand for training programs.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.


Getting a Better School Lunch

Picture a school cafeteria lunch. What comes to mind? Pizza, Tater Tots, chicken nuggets? The quality of school food has improved in the last 20 years­—thanks in large part to 2010’s Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, which mandates that schools serve a fruit and vegetable every day, increase the number of whole-grain foods, and limit trans fats and sodium. Of course, there’s still work to be done. “Many schools are still hard at work increasing fruits and veggies and phasing out more processed foods,” says Margaret Brown, an NRDC staff attorney who spearheads NRDC’s regional food efforts and is working closely with the Urban School Food Alliance, a nonprofit coalition of six of the largest school districts in the United States.

And the potential health impact of improving school meals is enormous. Some 32 million kids eat school meals every day, and for many low-income students, those meals supply more than half their daily calories. And the waste created by all-too-common polystyrene trays is adding to the already-astronomical pollution in our waterways.

It’s great to get excited about making change in your child’s school, but before you march into the principal’s office or a PTA meeting, do your homework. “Talk to the administrators who are involved in food-related decision-making—often the school food director—and ask how the process works and what they’re up against,” Brown says. With an average of $1.30 to spend per child, most public schools face significant challenges. So build relationships first. Then ask, How can I help? “Most schools want to make healthy changes and would welcome parents’ assistance,” Brown says. Here’s where to start.

Strive for a salad bar.

“Getting kids to eat more vegetables and fruits is something we can all get behind,” Brown says. “Salad bars are usually a huge hit because kids like to choose what they eat,” (To reduce waste, suggest posting a sign saying ‘Take What You Want, But Eat What You Take.’) Because the equipment for a salad bar can cost $3,000 or more, you may need to get creative on funding. “I did a lot of grant writing and talked to any business owner who would listen. A lot of them donated funds,” says Jessica Shelly, food services director for Cincinnati Public Schools, which installed salad bars in every one of its schools in less than a year. Let’s Move Salad Bars to Schools, an alliance among chef Ann Cooper and produce associations and grocers whose goal is to have a salad bar in every school in the country, offers additional suggestions.

Check out new vendors.

To improve the quality of cafeteria food in general, visit Focus on the Plate, which lists 50 healthy food products, like poultry free of unnecessary antibiotics and vegetarian burritos as well as the suppliers that offer them. “More and more companies are offering healthier options,” says Kathy Lawrence, cofounder of Focus on the Plate’s parent organization, School Food Focus, which links school districts with healthy food producers and suppliers. “Parents can make a big impact by researching local or regional proprietors who are willing to work within the school’s budget.” Or encourage your school to offer one plant-based entrée every day by sharing recipes and testing them with the staff, suggests Amie Hamlin, executive director of the New York Coalition for Healthy School Food, which has 13 plant-based, kid-approved recipes of its own.

Get fresh and (really) local.

Building a garden has significant upfront costs—as much as $40,000—but a surprising number of companies have made a practice of contributing funding to schools willing to take on the challenge, including Whole Foods and Lowe’s, says Lisa Ely, a mother and TV producer in Valencia, California, who consults with schools on how to build gardens. “I’ve found that the best way to sell schools on the idea is to help them see it as a learning tool for kids, as well as a potential resource for the cafeteria,” she says. “You can get PTAs interested by telling them about research showing that kids who spend 20 minutes outside are better able to focus.” Also, she says, when kids plant and harvest the produce themselves, they’re more likely to eat it.