Health expert and chef Kate Adamick says school food isn’t 100 percent to blame for childhood obesity; empowering food workers is the key
It is a shocking fact of modern life that childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, this generation of children may have a shorter life expectancy than its parents because of diet-related illnesses. The consequences of such dire facts and frightening predictions range from crippling national health care costs to compromised national security, and include immeasurable and unnecessary physical and emotional pain.
Because most American children are required to attend school until at least the age of 16, nearly every child in the country is exposed to school food in some way on a daily basis. Thus, in recent years, the trend has been to place much of the blame for the national obesity crisis on school meals, which typically comprise of pre-packaged, highly processed products high in sodium, fat, sugars, and artificial colors and preservatives. However, despite the dubious quality of most school food, the exact role it has played in the obesity crisis is open to debate. Just ask the average school food service worker whether she feels as if she is being blamed for childhood obesity, and you will likely receive an indignant response.
In truth, while school food is an easy and obvious scapegoat, the reality is that both the high rates of childhood obesity and the poor quality of the average school meal are merely symptoms of America’s broken food system, the myriad causes of which include campaign finance laws, farm subsidies favoring corporate agriculture, and ubiquitous marketing campaigns targeting children.
While there may never be a single successful approach to restoring our nation’s citizens and food system to full health, Cook for America creates a new paradigm in which school food becomes a powerful and effective part of the solution by building a school food service work force that is not only capable of preparing healthy scratch-cooked meals from whole, fresh foods, but is empowered and motivated to do so.
The cornerstone of Cook for America is its 5-day Lunch Teacher Culinary Boot Camps, which provide concentrated and comprehensive culinary training in such basic competencies as food safety and sanitation, culinary math, time management, basic knife skills, menu planning, and foundational hands-on cooking techniques related to proteins, grains, legumes, vegetables, sauces, and baked items. A critical step towards professionalizing the school food workforce, the Cook for America Lunch Teacher Culinary Boot Camps build skills, confidence, awareness, and motivation among its participants.
Of course, serving healthy school meals in a sick economy requires more that culinary training for school food service workers. Fortunately, though lack of funds is frequently cited as the primary roadblock for school food reform, chances are great that there are thousands, and maybe millions, of dollars to be found within most districts’ existing school meals programs. Cook for America’s “Lunch Money” Workshops — designed for food service directors, school district administrators, school board members, and parents — reveal how school food service operations can increase revenue and cut expenses by restructuring commodities ordering practices, improving breakfast participation, and rediscovering the old adage, “A penny saved, is a penny earned.”
Through helping to create a nation of school food service personnel who are trained, empowered and inspired to provide healthy cooked-from-scratch school meals for America’s children, Cook for America is working to transform school food into a viable solution to the national childhood obesity crisis. Our children’s lives depend on it.
Chefs Kate Adamick and Andrea Martin are the co-founders of Cook for America. Kate is a New York City-based consultant specializing in integrating operational changes, site-based programming, and public-private partnerships to implement, reinforce and support the healthful transformation of institutional meal programs and aid in developing local and sustainable agriculture systems.
For more stories:
- Jamie Oliver’s ‘Food Revolution’ Meets Resistance in L.A.
- Back to School – Back to Sloppy Joes?
- How Real is Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution?
- Healthy Back-to-School Lunches for Your Child – And You
- Changing What Our Children Eat at School
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