Nutritious school lunches equals healthier children

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By The Staff

Given all I know about food and the food system as an adult, it seems slightly funny that as a child, with parents who diligently packed me a brown bag lunch every day, I was jealous of the kids who ate school lunch. I wanted the pizza, the sloppy joes and the tater tots ... and not my crummy turkey sandwich on whole grain bread.

I suppose that's because I, along with many Americans, had yet to learn the real impact of unhealthy food on children.

Today, children and their parents are much more educated about what a poor diet can do to a child. As we see childhood obesity and diabetes rise, particularly in poor communities, the link between nutritious food and healthy children is more visible then ever.

While I may have pined away for a slice of Grade D sausage pizza from the cafeteria, kids today are actually fighting for the healthy food my parents packed me.

Recently in my hometown of Madison, Wis., a group of fourth graders planned an "Eat In" to protest the school's unhealthy lunches. The students are part of a group called Boycott School Lunches and while their Eat In was canceled due to pressure from the school administration, student boycotts are taking place in other areas, like Westby, Wis.

The student push for a healthier school lunch could not come at a better time.

The Child Nutrition Act, which lays down the guidelines for the National School Lunch Program, is up for reauthorization and it's important to note that those most affected by school lunch policy are calling for change. They might be demanding healthier foods, but their call to action opens the dialogue about what healthy food really is and who deserves it.

At World Hunger Year we believe everyone deserves access to healthy food, especially our children ... ALL our children. Which is why we feel it's important that The Child Nutrition Act includes, at a minimum, not only free lunch for low-income students, but also free breakfast and funding for summer feeding programs.

WHY believes that healthy food is food grown primarily locally, minimally processed and with the sustainability of the earth in mind. Food grown close to home is not just good for our personal health, its good for our economic health and our environmental health as well.

The closer the food is produced to the plate it ends up on, the lower the carbon footprint that is left. And producing food close to home means supporting local farmers and local small businesses, which is something I think we can all get behind in these trying economic times.

So, to bring it back to the kids, it's not just about feeding them nutritious food, it's about teaching them what nutritious food is, where it comes from, and how to grow it and cook it themselves. It's an understanding I didn't have as kid ... I knew what I was eating, but didn't grasp the greater implications.

Kids nowadays seem to get it, at least a lot of them. It's time to get behind their movement and call for holistic change in The Child Nutrition Act. This is our chance to push for, and get healthy and local school lunches for ALL children.

Please call your representative in Congress and urge support of healthy school food locally sourced in the re-authorization of The Child Nutrition Act.

- Ellie Hurley is the Communications Coordinator of World Hunger Year. Founded in 1975, WHY is a leader in the fight against hunger and poverty in the United States and around the world. For more information, visit www.worldhungeryear.org.