the kind life

kind Q&A: changing how kids eat at school…one meal at a time

I wanted to introduce you all to my beautiful friend Roxanne. We met at a raw food convention many many years ago. She was able to convince her daughter’s school to serve more vegetables. Roxanne is a real inspiration in taking action over things that many of us may feel powerless over, like school lunches.
“I have had experiences with getting more veggies served at my daughter’s school two different times – once with my daughter Raja and then with my other daughter Ally (who is now a junior in college).
With Ally, I did a couple of things that I would highly recommend. I volunteered to teach a cooking class, telling the teacher that the kids will learn something fun & that I will also integrate some math & number skills (age appropriate). Teachers always welcome a fun new experience that does not require any extra work ontheir part.
My mission was to teach kids about making healthy, organic, yummy (vegan) food. When I started this, Ally was in pre-kindergarten in a French school. By the end of 1st grade it had become so popular that I had also raised money to put in a teaching kitchen at the school. I also regularly brought the classes to my gardens to teach about organic gardening & make salads & veggie pizzas in the outdoor ovens. I also did tastings with Safeway unorganic strawberries & tomatoes, verses homegrown organic ones; they swore they could never eat a tasteless conventionally grown fruit/veg again! What I found is that the kids were loving what they experienced, and going home & telling their parents. So I was then getting calls from parents asking for recipes for all these foods that the kids were making at school & raving about. They were always shocked to find out that they were vegetable centered & vegan. They found out that their kids liked vegetables they would have never thought of making for them. Kids love to see & be part of where their food comes from, and they are up for eating anything they took part in growing and/or harvesting. I found that the kids can really influence the way the family eats just by recounting their day to their parents. I think anyone who can organize trips to a local organic farm, if the school does not have access to a garden, can put together a great start to getting kids inspired to eat vegetarian.
My next experience was from 2nd grade to middle school, where Ally went to a Waldorf school. The small school did not have an organized school lunch program, so I decided to jump in & make one available. Once again making it easy for everyone involved was key. It’s important to make good allies at the school. I started out with doing 2 lunches a week, all vegan (and some raw). I mostlyexplained that they will be organic, healthy meals. I found out that some people do not understand how much kids will love vegan food if they are given the opportunity! One of the most popular things I offered was a large saladbar; I put on it everything that grew in my garden, plus lots of yummy sprinkles of nuts, raisins, edible flowers, rawmesan, seasonal fruits, and many choices of homemade dressings. The kids loved having the variety of choices.
For the lunches I enlisted parent volunteers to help with set up & clean up. This way parents got to witness all the healthy food the kids were eating at school (I can’t tell you how many times I heard someone say that they thought their son/daughter would never eat that way until they saw it themselves at school).
Once again the calls were coming in asking for recipes. I ended up putting them in the school’s newsletter & offering cooking classes to the parents too. After the first year, I felt like the whole school community had really changed the way their families were eating;  it was very rewarding.
With my daughter Raja it was a bit different. Her elementary school had a set school lunch program that was basically as they liked to think of it, “kid’s food.” That meant hamburger, hotdogs, mac & cheese, & chicken fingers. Well this was a tougher project for me. I started with teaching cooking in the classes (from smoothies to vegan lasagnas to raw desserts) which had good results, but I knew I would have to do something more when I saw the hamburgers & corn syrup sweetened desserts come out for lunch.
This was a larger school, so things weren’t as easy, plus they were not Waldorf parents! So I found a group of parents that had similar concerns about what our kids were being served for lunch and talked to as many parents as I could, asking if they would be open to a change.
It’s actually shocking what some parents think is “healthy.” Again, I found the more you can make it easy for administrators and know who your allies are at a school, the easier it is to make changes. I ended up finding a caterer who would do vegetarian lunches for the school, which was a start. Then after many test lunches (to kids, parents, teachers, administrators) and a lot of hard selling (the organic vegetarian lunches were going to cost $1.00 a day more than the other lunches) the lunch program was approved. It took sometime to transition, but ultimately, it was a huge success all around.”
Isn’t it great how you can help change the way families eat by changing what kids eat at school? And of course, vise versa. The better you eat at home, the better your little ones will eat as well.
What do you think of Roxanne’s experience changing the way children think of food, and what they eat? Do you have any experience with changing the way kids eat at school? Share your stories in the comments below.
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