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Why aren't we feeding our kids better school lunches?

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When the topic of school food is raised, the comment I hear most frequently is “it’s all about education.” While I used to agree, lately I believe it’s not so simple. For over ten years, the non-profit organization I founded and countless others have been educating parents, kids, and schools about the link between food choice and children’s health. We know that food matters. We know kids who are well-nourished perform better in school. We know kids who have both access to whole foods and education around food choice carry healthful habits into adulthood.

So, I’d say we’re pretty well educated – we know what we should be feeding our kids. The question is, Why aren’t we?

As executive director of the Delaware Farm to School Collaborative, I pose that question regularly to school administrators and hear most frequently:

  1. Good food costs too much
  2. The kids won’t eat it
  3. We don’t have the staff or the facility to do more than heat and serve
  4. It’s only one meal
  5. We’ve got too much going on right now, and food is just not a priority

My take-away from these conversations is that it’s not just about education. It’s about business, too.

So, in terms of change – for those of us who’d like to bridge the gap between what we know we should be feeding our kids and what we actually are – our goal should be to make it good business.

What if we find ways to improve the quality of the food without increasing the price? What if we retrain the work force? What if we work directly with local farmers to boost their market share? What if we consolidate purchasing and streamline distribution in a way that cuts cost and lowers environmental impact?

We know it can be done. For the past two years, the Collaborative has learned from and partnered with national innovators and food system experts. We’ve studied successful school food models that incorporate local sourcing, collective purchasing, retraining strategies, waste reduction, and supporting curriculum.

Our next step is to find a way to make it work here in Delaware. To that end, we’ve embarked on a two-year school food conversion pilot to identify opportunities and challenges unique to our market. Founding partners in the pilot include regional experts in distribution, food service, food safety, and community research. We’re not thinking it’s going to be easy, but we’re confident that we’ll find a way to make it good business.

Starting today, we’ll be accepting applications from Delaware independent, charter, and public schools to participate in the pilot.  We’re looking for a range of schools, but each will be evaluated in terms of the lessons we hope to learn, as well as for commitment and leadership. For more information or to request an application, contact theresa@defarmtoschoolcollaborative.org.

Theresa Pileggi Proud is the founder of the parents’ network Let’s Talk Lunch, Executive Director of the Delaware Farm to School Collaborative, and Chair of the L.E.A.D. (Leadership, Education, Access, Data) School Food and Wellness Policy Pilot. She lives in Wilmington with her husband and daughters.


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