My third-grade son often eats a school lunch. I feel like I have to defend the fact that I don’t pack him a lunch every day, but the food he gets at school is healthier, cheaper and, of course, more convenient than what I would send from home. Each year, my district implements more changes to make the menu more nutritious, and I couldn’t be happier with the lunches.
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Award-winning documentary filmmaker Amy Kalafa worked with Dr. Susan Rubin, the founder of Better School Food, to create the film Two Angry Moms, which chronicled the efforts of Rubin and others as they took on school food systems nationwide. In Lunch Wars, Kalafa provides the information needed to start a school food revolution across the country, including how parents can jump-start changes in their own districts by approaching their school’s food services director for an audit of the cafeteria.
Of course, economics remains one of the biggest obstacles to changing menus. Kalafa reports that the National School Lunch Program oversees more than 5.5 billion lunches per year, and there’s a perception that moving to healthy food costs money—something most schools and districts are short on these days. “Your food service director can help you understand the economic constraints of your district’s school meal program,” Kalafa writes. “Most lunch programs are required by the district to break even.”
The author then details the commodity systems schools use—food provided by the government, which is usually less than healthy—as well as the politics around vending machines, as schools often get kickbacks for supplying name-brand drinks and snacks. And just last year, the Child Nutrition Act put new limits on calories, fat and sodium, and now requires a proper balance of vitamins and nutrients as part of its effort to tackle the epidemic of childhood obesity.
Parents should also check out their school’s wellness policy. Kalafa provides guidelines for creating a manageable one, along with examples and a list of myths with solutions, encouraging a “holistic approach” to making school meals and snacks healthier. She then focuses on Farm to School programs, which have the potential to not only improve the quality of food, but also benefit local farms and the economy.
And yet another way to keep it local is to start a school garden in your community. Kalafa shares tips on how to manage and maintain it, safely bringing fresh produce from the ground to the plate. And what to do with the organic waste? There’s information on composting, too.
Lunch Wars is a powerful twofer: it breaks down the issues affecting school food today and offers doable solutions for anyone looking to start a food revolution in their local schoolyard.
Nancy Talan is a software tester and book reviewer at 5 Minutes for Books, two careers that couldn't be more different but are both rewarding. She enjoys popular fiction and picture books. She moved her family to northern Colorado in 2009 where she enjoys great skiing and great beer.