School Lunch Programs: Feeding Mind, Body and Soul

by Alyce Ortuzar

It’s lunchtime at school. What are your kids eating? Here are some possibilities:

What’s Wrong with Additives?

Research shows that pesticides and hormone-disruptors are neurotoxic to growing brains. Who knows how consuming meat from stressed animals effects already stressed-out students? In the 1970s, Pediatrician Benjamin Feingold linked food additives, dyes and other additives to hyperactive behavior and learning problems. Removing these poisons and putting children on diets of salycilate-free fresh fruits and vegetables, and other minimally processed foods, produced dramatic improvements in behavior and learning.

How Did We Get Here?

Many administrators sign exclusive contracts with money-hungry corporations for food, beverages, and school supplies, all with corporate logos. Without parental approval, community discussions, or analyses of benefit versus harm, these administrators offer the highest bidder unrestricted access to their students. Shame on them for communicating such materialistic values while undermining their students’ health!

According to Marion Nestle, author of Food Politics: How the Food Industry Influences Nutrition, and Health, Revised and Expanded Edition (California Studies in Food and Culture)Food Politics, removing commercialism from schools teaches kids important values. Healthy food is also the first line of defense against the epidemic of childhood obesity.

Won’t Students Starve?

Many think children will starve if offered only nutritious alternatives. Nestle believes that when food tastes good, kids gobble it up and ask their parents to stop buying junk. They like learning where food comes from, how it is produced, and how to prepare it themselves. When children eat food they have planted, nurtured, harvested and prepared, they re-connect with nature, the true source of life. One middle school in Berkeley, California found this to be true. They replaced an abandoned asphalt lot with soil sheltered by an arbor made from kiwi vines intertwined with willow and recycled wood. The result: a bountiful garden next to a compost play area. Kids happily learn from both.

Geoffrey Canada, president of the Harlem Children’s Zone, also sees results. His non-profit sponsors the lunch program at Promise Academy, a charter school in one of New York’s poorest sections. While children resisted at first, they now happily down turkey chili, brown rice and cabbage, with apples, not cake, for dessert. Whenever possible, Promise Academy’s lunches use locally grown food, prepared on-site. Farm to Cafeteria Projects allow schools to purchase local foods from small ecological farmers.

Integrate Nutrition & Cooking Into the Curriculum

Nourish the Mind, Body and Soul

Innovative lunch programs nourish the minds, bodies and the souls of our students. Kids also learn the importance of environmental sustainability and small- scale agriculture. Learning to value responsible farming, appreciate the beauty of traditional farmland and understand the relationships among community, nutrition, and learning can start young. Then, our students will demand what Pennsylvania farmer Kim Seeley calls "food fit for children" both at home and at school.

[Alyce Ortuzar, a medical researcher, is on the Board of the Maryland Organic Food and Farming Association. She runs the Well Mind Association of Greater Washington, a holistic medicine information clearinghouse.]

[Initially published in New Developments: Volume 11, Number 2 - Winter, 2005-2006]

All material in this web site is given for information purposes only and is not to be substituted for advice from your health care provider.

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Page last modified: February 23, 2009
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