by Dawn Casey-Rowe, Social Studies Teacher and Learnist Evangelist
Back to school season makes me think about lunch.
“You’re supposed to be thinking about teaching,” you might say. Lunch might not seem like an academic topic, but it is–students who are not well nourished do not learn effectively. While some schools have rejected prepared foods in favor of salad bars, chopped veggies, homemade items, and farm to table, these options simply aren’t available for many of our children. The history of school lunch is interesting. Though the first school lunch was provided in New York City in 1853, lunch programs were expanded during the Depression, feeding children and helping farmers to take price-lowering surplus off the market. This created the the standard school lunch, available at prices students could afford, leading to many hungry children being fed.
Some of the resulting items are not as healthy as we might like in today’s health-conscious environment. The good news is that many schools are addressing this. Still, parents often choose to encourage healthy eating by packing lunch for students, saving money in these tough economic times as well. When I was a student a million years ago, it wasn’t cool to bring a lunch. I ate several years of jelly sandwiches supplanted by several more of soup in thermoses, followed by four years of high school cafeteria lunch.
The lunch I bring as a teacher is not “cool” either–mason jars full of iced tea, homemade salads, breads, dressings, and chutneys, soups to nuts that I share with my food-loving neighbor next door in return for a shot or two of her juice, which she makes with in-season fruit and “just one sprig of kale.” I’ll confess that some adults in the building question our spread. It’s become a barometer–the more people eating shrink-wrapped food who mock us, the more we feel we’re on the track to healthy eating.
Healthy eating isn’t just an issue for kids–it’s an issue for adults, too, and critical, because we provide the example. Our students and children see how we eat. They emulate us. Healthy lifestyle habits set foundations for success. This is one of the most important issues in school today, in my opinion. I can’t teach effectively to students who haven’t eaten–this happens all the time. As a teacher, I don’t get apples, I toss them to hungry students. Every day.
As parents, getting our kids involved–packing lunches together and making healthy choices–that brings education home. Children and adults become committed to and invested in the process of enjoying good food at the midday meal. This Learnist feature is important. It is a subject near and dear to my heart–healthy living.
Students are often intrigued by what comes out of my bags and packs. I use this curiosity to foster teachable moments as much as possible.
“Miss, what’s that?” they’ll say as I unwrap imperfectly-sliced homemade bread from a Japanese-style furoshiki wrap. I’ll explain. Maybe it’s bread with yogurt cheese, homemade preserves or apple butter, sitting next to granola I made myself. They’re intrigued. What’s more interesting to them than what I eat is the way I pack it. My food–and it’s zero-waste packaging–never hesitates to start a conversation. When I can, I share a snack and educate about food sourcing.
“You made that cheese?” We discuss how food is made, and how it gets to our table. These topics lead to conversations and classes about pioneer days, homesteading, the history of how the yellow got into cheese, sustainability, natural eating, agricultural and economic policy, food science and genetics, and yes, the fact that most foods don’t grow in the aisles of the grocery store. When students are interested, the lessons stick, and these aren’t only lessons in economics, science, history, and math, they’re lessons about how we practice what we preach and live a healthy and balanced daily life. That is one of the main skills students will need for success in their own careers, advanced educations, and family life.
I dedicate this week to thinking about lunch. Make lunch with your kids. Discuss healthy lunch with students. Pack and enjoy your lunch. Recognize lunch staff who goes out of their way to get fresh, homemade local items to our kids. At our school, that’s something they try to do, and I love talking to Terry, who always tries to get farm fresh produce into our cafeteria. That makes me smile!
The United States generates mountains of waste related to school lunches, and not every school recycles. Reduce the waste using the waste-free lunch philosophy. Packing a waste-free lunch isn’t that hard. You need a few items that will save you money in the end–and they are very cool for school.
School gardens interest students in food. When students, especially little ones, see their food grow–the miracle of watching the seed grow into the food on the table, they become interested in trying new healthy foods. Although I’m still waiting for this to be true for my son, it’s certainly true for my students.
Packing healthy lunch doesn’t need to be burdensome. It can be fun, too. This board has suggestions and recipes to help you, so that lunch doesn’t get old quick.
This board discusses the issue of kids and healthy food, including the fact that the number one school meal is chicken fingers and french fries–hardly the place we want to be on a regular basis. Healthy school lunches is becoming a large political grassroots movement. How is your state doing?
Kids’ habits are generated and reinforced by adults. Here are some ways to make your own lunch great. Whether you are a parent, teacher, or just interested in health, we can all do a little better. Get a new lunch box, plan out the menus, and have fun! Chances are, you’ll be able to keep a little bit more money in your wallet as well.
Image attribution flickr user brucetuten