Kate Adamick, co-founder of Cook for America, is working to transform school lunches into healthier, positive eating experiences.
When it comes to school food, Kate Adamick is a pioneer. The New York City-based consultant specializes in integrating operational changes, site-based programming, and public-private partnerships to implement, reinforce and support the healthful transformation of institutional meal programs. She has worked for school districts, hospitals and retirement communities across the United States. Her Cook for America organization has received much media attention for its Lunch Teacher culinary boot camps and other culinary training that transforms America’s school food service personnel into skilled and passionate professional culinarians.
genConnect asked Kate Adamick about the pros and cons of various school lunch programs across the country, meal ideas for kids, and whether she’s optimistic about the future of school lunches.
genConnect: When did we take such a wrong turn in regards to healthy eating at school? Were school lunches always so battered, fried, lacking in nutrition, etc…?
Adamick: A confluence of events in the 1970s started the ball rolling in the wrong direction: The nation was struggling through a recession, food prices were soaring, federal commodity crop subsidies were changing, and fast-food chains — and their accompanying full-color television ads — were becoming ubiquitous. Suddenly, Americans believed that they deserved a break today — every day — and that they could have it their way. The perception — and ultimately, the definition— of food changed for most Americans. With the USDA in the untenable position of serving two masters — the Big Food industry and the children who are fed through the National School Lunch Program— it wasn’t long before school meals became little more than processed food-like substances wrapped in space-age packaging decorated with popular cartoon characters and purporting to be “new,” “improved,” and “better for you.”
gC: What’s your biggest fear in terms of the future of school lunches?
Adamick: I’m actually quite optimistic about the future of school meals. The issue is now on the forefront of social causes among healthcare providers, educators, environmentalists, chefs, politicians, and even the military. Within the last five years, there has been a clear recognition among most Americans that we can’t continue to feed ourselves and our children as we have for the past 30 years without suffering the dire consequences of diet-related illness, which is fast becoming the leading cause of death in the United States. We are finally in a position to demand that our children be fed fresh, whole, scratch-cooked meals in school every day. I guess my biggest fear is that parents will simply think that someone else is taking care of ensuring that those demands are being met. If every parent makes school food reform one of the three most important issues in their lives, my fear will be unfounded.
gC: What are a few of the healthiest schools in the country?
Adamick: Every school district needs to set its own path to school food reform. There is no single recipe for success. Most school districts, however, can take simple, immediate steps as they map out their long-term strategy. For example, the Los Angeles Unified School District just announced that it is removing flavored milk in its schools. Flavored milk can add as much as 10 pounds of added sugar a year to a child’s diet. The important thing to remember is that a salad bar or a school garden doesn’t equal school food reform. While fresh produce is a critical component, carrot sticks on the plate every day next to corn dogs, pizza, and chicken nuggets will do little to educate our children’s palates or their understanding of, and appreciation for, real food.
gC: What are some great snack and meal ideas for your kids and why?
Adamick: One of the most important lessons a parent can teach a child is that “snacks” and “treats” are not a daily entitlement. One of my favorite books is Little House in the Big Woods, by Laura Ingalls Wilder, which is basically the story of a pioneer family struggling to hunt, grow, gather, and prepare its own food for a year. We don’t have to reach too far back into our collective history to recall that dessert used to be something that we ate on special occasions. Maybe there was a peppermint stick on Christmas morning, a pie on Sunday afternoons, or an ice cream cone on the Fourth of July. Our modern culture has taught children that snacks and treats and desserts accompany nearly every meal, are frequently served between meals, and often serve as the meals themselves. My hope for parents is that they find the fortitude to fight this trend and reeducate their children about how much more enjoyable treats are when you don’t have them all the time. And I hope that every parent sits down with their children and reads Little House in the Big Woods.
For more from Kate Adamick and our healthy eating experts on genConnect:
- Cook for America’s Chef Kate Adamick: Transforming School Lunches
- Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Meets Resistance in L.A.
- Back to School – Back to Sloppy Joes?
- Healthy Back-to-School Lunches for Your Child – And You
- Changing What Our Children Eat at School
- How Real is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution?
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