How to get your kids to eat well at Brooklyn schools?
Fact: Kids eat half their daily calories at school.
Each morning my boys spread pb&j on two slices of bread smashing them together. They dig for baby carrots in the bottom drawer in the fridge or grab an apple from the fruit bowl on the counter. They rummage through the cupboard searching for chips or granola bars. Even though each morning minute is precious—we are out the door at 7:30—the boys prefer to take the time to make lunch rather than be stuck eating school lunch.
My friend, on the other hand, sends her kids to school with lunch money because it’s impossible to pack a lunch as inexpensively as it is to buy it at school. Her approach saves her time and nets the school revenue. Schools get between $.26 and $2.76 per lunch sold, depending on the lunch subsidy.
I wonder: can get my boys to eat school lunch? It would save me money and save my kids time. Plus, buying school lunch will bring money into the school. Win/win/win! My boys are stubborn enough to forgo eating if they don’t like the food so the lunch would actually have to change, not simply be renamed.
According to Beatriz Beckford with the Brooklyn Food Coalition, school lunches have, in the past decade, improved in flavor and nutrition. Yet, she explained, “There is a health crisis in parts of Brooklyn.” The BFC is working with principals and parents to improve food quality neighborhood by neighborhood. The greater the parental involvement, the greater impact the BFC (and you) could have.
What are simple ways we can increase the nutrition and flavor of school lunches?
FTOP Credit for Volunteering at a School
The BFC partners with many organizations to improve access to healthy food, including the Park Slope Food Coop. You can get FTOP credit for volunteering at a school salad bar, among other things. You have to do your time; you might as well make our communities healthier. Check with the BFC for more information.
Fact: The school lunch program has served 219 billion lunches since its inception in 1946.
Your school may have a Wellness Committee. If so, get involved. If not, the Brooklyn Food Coalition can help you set one up.
Wellness Committees consist of parents, teachers, administrators, school chefs and students who want to bring healthier practices—food and exercise— into the school community. Some popular healthier practices include Meatless Mondays and Water Coolers.
Fact: Drinking cold water raises the oxygen level in your blood.
Edible School Yards
The Edible School Yard has come to Brooklyn. Students at PS 216 are growing gardens and learning horticulture. As a 4Her who grew up farming in an inhospitable environment, I’m excited to see urban schools digging up cement and planting tomatoes. Through 4H I learned how to garden and raise hogs. More importantly I learned leadership, achievement and public speaking. I learned I was valuable; I could impact my environment in a positive way. That, in addition to growing food, is the power of the Edible School Yard.
Not every Brooklyn school has the space for a full size garden. We have to be more creative with our Edible School Yards than our counterparts in California. PS 107 created a container garden students work with and eat from. PS 372 offers an after school “Pizza Horticulture” class where students grow basil and tomatoes. These programs don’t sustain school lunch greens, but they raise awareness of food sources and teach the basics of horticulture.
Take your Wellness Committee on a tour of your school building. Your unique infrastructure may support a rooftop garden, window boxes, or container gardens. Who knows what you will grow. It may be more than parsley, sage rosemary and thyme. As they say, “you can count the seeds in an apple, but you can’t count the apples in a seed.”
The Brooklyn Food Coalition has a list of grants available to plant urban gardens.
Fact: Food tastes better if you grow it yourself. Source: Actually, this is popular opinion.
According to Ms. Beckford, nearby farms contribute apples (our official state fruit) and milk to our schools. Fabulous. Buying from local, small farms has unique obstacles. It’s difficult for small farmers to consistently provide a regular quantity of produce year round. Small farmers follow the natural season cycles and are impacted by acts of nature more so than larger farms. I grew up on a small farm and am acutely aware of the trials small farmers go through. Yet if schools are flexible, a successful collaboration can be made. I’m 100% in favor of working with small farms.
In addition to relying on farms upstate, in the Hudson Valley and Long Island, we could patronize urban farms, such as Added Value in Red Hook.
The impact on students of growing a container garden at school and then eating food from a local, urban garden would be enormous. Each year school groups toured my family’s farm and decades later some of the “city kids” I run into still comment on the experience. Imagine the possibilities opened up for ambitious Brooklyn teens experiencing an Edible School Yard and an urban farm.
Fact: About 31 million children will eat school lunch every day.