By Lisa Golden Schroeder
For many of us who have made lots of noise for years about the sorry state of school lunches—and despaired with every new story about overweight, pre-diabetic kids –2011 was a banner year. I feel like it was the perfect storm as First Lady Michelle Obama made huge inroads with her Let’s Move campaign, more chefs engaged with local schools in the Chefs Move to Schools program, and historic reforms were made for improving school nutrition through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. Now the Fuel Up to Play 60 program, launched by local Dairy Councils all over the U.S., is advertising like mad to get students involved in healthier eating and being sports active, Kids LiveWell from the National Restaurant Association is helping family restaurants develop new, healthier menu offerings for children (wow, finally sides of fruit and something other than chicken nuggets or hamburgers on the kid’s menu!) and the largest consumer-governed health care organization in the country, HealthPartners, began a conversation with their members and patients about making better food choices, really focusing on kids with their yumPower initiative.
At the core of this national movement, groups like Slow Foods USA and Kids Gardening! have been instrumental in getting dozens of school gardens planted this year. Corporate underwriters (like Just BARE Chicken) have made edible schoolyard classrooms possible in many places where district budgets are being cut like mad. I feel so fortunate to be a part of this exciting time, and I actually think this awareness is here to stay—this isn’t a flash in the pan (so to speak). It would be easy to dismiss it as a faddish, cool-in-the-moment thing to focus on, but it appears that people in general are actually voting with their dollars. The support for, and sales of, local and healthier foods, along with empowering children (and in turn adults) with an enthusiasm to be active and eat better, seems to be growing. And it looks like the epidemic of overweight Americans might be cured by the little children. If we can get them to beg their mom or dad to buy a big bunch of grapes, a bag of multi-grain tortilla chips, or a container of Greek yogurt to snack on we might recover as a nation. At least we’ve made a real start this year—so here’s to an energy-filled, active, and delicious 2012!