Urgent need for healthy food in Redwood City schools

healthy food in schools

Doctors and health experts have made it clear that proper nutrition is indispensable to perform well throughout the day, to have good health and to maintain a good immune system, so important today more than ever. The situation becomes more pressing in children and, therefore, in schools.

In response to the need to improve the food offered to hundreds of children in San Mateo County schools, Anna Lague, director of Redwood City Child Nutrition Services; Bonnie Christensen, director of Nutrition Services for the Berkeley Unified School District; Judi Shills, executive director of Conscious Kitchen; Claire Tuohey-Mote, San Lui Coastal Unified School District's Farm to School Coordinator; and Juan Cordon, director of the San Lui Coastal Farm to School Program; Judi Shills, executive director of Conscious Kitchen; Claire Tuohey-Mote, San Lui Coastal Unified School District's Farm to School Coordinator; and Juan Cordon, director of Vacaville's Nutrition Services Division, discussed taking action.

At the meeting, Anna Lague highlighted that Redwood City is already working on a new software that will allow to know and have more transparency in nutritional matters within schools, because she accepted that, many times, the food provided is not the most adequate in terms of sugars and fats.

This advance would allow parents, as well as teachers and school staff, to know the quality of the food, he said.

In that sense, he said that cereals with high levels of sugar, as well as cinnamon buns will no longer be served in schools, although chocolate milk will continue, a situation that is expected to change soon this year, due to the growing rate of obesity in children who prove to be malnourished.

The speakers, who met virtually, agreed that COVID-19 has been a challenge in all school districts, however, it was also a trigger to improve the nutrition of students, as health has become a priority for all.

They suggested that Redwood City could apply for grants to pay for better equipment and kitchens on campus to improve food, such as ovens or bulk milk dispensers, which encourage milk consumption while reducing costs.

And one of the great challenges facing the city is to change all those ultra processed foods full of calories and do not provide the nutrients needed for children and youth can be optimal for learning.

Given this, it was concluded that there is a need to include more foods cooked from scratch, in addition to sourcing produce from local suppliers, which has largely allowed several school districts to avoid disruptions in the food supply chain, as they can be more flexible.

In addition, they agreed that in order to achieve the transition to this safer and more beneficial feeding system for children, it is necessary to have adequate, sufficient and professionally trained staff.

The presenters detailed that participation in the school meal program increased dramatically when they transitioned to fresher, local ingredients. They also noted that this has generated increased revenue for their departments. 

Organic products are also a great alternative for schools, such is the case of the milk that is distributed, as well as other foods, which can help lower costs in the short to medium term, and undoubtedly improve the quality of life of students.

Transitions haven't happened overnight, and they've made changes in different ways, such as the Berkeley district, which started with a simple menu, while Vacaville moved to balanced meals quickly.

"The challenge is that children face an uncertain future related to diet. Chronic diseases in children are on the rise in the U.S. and the world, and many children are suffering from diseases like these that are unprecedented," said Judi Shills, executive director of Conscious Kitchen.

The Redwood City Board of Education recognizes that students need adequate and nutritious food to grow, learn and maintain good health. 

In accordance with city guidelines, food and beverages available through the district's food service program shall:

1. Be carefully selected to contribute to the nutritional well-being of students and the prevention of disease.

2. Meet or exceed nutritional standards specified in law and administrative regulation.

3. Prepare in a way that appeals to students, preserves nutritional quality, and encourages lifelong healthy eating habits.

4. Serve in age-appropriate portions

5. Sell yourself at reasonable prices

The Redwood City School District also details that the food service program will prioritize serving unprocessed foods and fresh fruits and vegetables that are not fried, however, the current situation is far from that.

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