You’ve heard of Take Your Child to Work Day, but have you heard of Take Your Parent to Lunch Day?
At Atherton Elementary School in Burton, we invite parents to try what their children eat every day. We’ve talked to parents who couldn’t believe the school served so much fresh fruit at lunch. Not just apples and oranges, but also kiwi — a student favorite — strawberries, pineapple, and melon. Our students deserve the healthiest possible meals at school, so it’s gratifying to have their parents’ support.
Now we know that parents across the state feel the same way. A recent poll from the Kids’ Safe and Healthful Foods Project found that nearly all Michigan public school parents — 98% — think serving nutritious foods in schools is important so that kids are ready to do their best in class.
The good news is that healthy lunches like ours are the rule, not the exception, in Michigan. In 97% of schools statewide, children have healthier meals thanks in part to updated U.S. Department of Agriculture nutrition standards. These healthy school meal standards are a success, and we must preserve them.
But a small yet vocal minority in Congress has begun efforts to roll things back. A law passed in 2014 took a step toward letting schools opt out of certain standards, and other proposed bills would create additional loopholes.
With the majority of schools — including ours — meeting the standards and parents showing support, it’s hard to imagine turning back the clock. As Congress prepares to renew the standards, they need to know that rolling them back is not in our kids’ best interest.
The new poll finds that 82% of Michigan parents favor the current healthy meal standards overall, and 95% support the requirement that schools include a serving of fruits or vegetables with every meal.
Kids are on board too. At our school, students proudly wear “I Tasted” stickers for trying new foods. Chickpea salad, which initially drew skepticism, quickly became a hit. We’ll never forget the student who finished eating it before he even reached the end of the lunch line!
Healthy meals have inspired a healthy school culture overall. Every morning, our students walk around the school for 15-20 minutes to be active, get the wiggles out, and talk with friends. Then they grab a healthy breakfast to-go and head to class. Teachers tell us that kids are more focused as a result. That’s a major reason our school board was enthusiastic from the start: healthy kids can better focus on their academics.
We are well aware that some schools face challenges implementing healthy meal standards. But if a small percentage of students struggle in math, we don’t let them opt out — we get them the extra help they need to succeed. Rather than undoing our progress, let’s support schools that need help.
USDA has already provided flexibility on meeting certain standards and awarded grants to help. All the evidence says we should keep moving forward. We know we are.
Susanne Carpenter is principal of Atherton Elementary in Burton, Mich. Bethany Taylor is food service director at the Atherton Community Schools.
From the Lansing State Journal