Five school lunch programs across the country have been so successful in providing and promoting fresh fruits, vegetables, and plant-based meals to students that they’ve earned the Physicians Committee’s 2015 Golden Carrot Award. More programs like these are greatly needed. Today, approximately 38 percent of U.S. children consume less than one vegetable on any given day. Overall, 80 percent of kids fail to get their five daily servings of fruits and veggies. The numbers are concerning, considering a lack of fruits and vegetables nearly rivals smoking as a risk factor for death and disease. Already, one- third of children are overweight or obese, while one in five teens suffers from high cholesterol.
Here are the five winners’ tips and best practices for getting students excited about eating their fruits and veggies:
1) Scratch-Cooked Meals: When frozen chicken nuggets and greasy pepperoni pizza aren’t on the menu, children can’t choose them. Eliminating unhealthy “heat-and-serve” options and replacing them with a single high-quality, scratch-cooked entrée per day is the key to the Village School’s success. The Village Kitchen serves an all-vegetarian, made-from-scratch menu packed with fresh, organic foods. The kitchen prioritizes local ingredients, with some of its vegetables and herbs originating in the school’s own garden. Popular entrée items include chickpea coconut curry, black bean and brown rice bowls with fresh vegetables, and Pad Thai topped with tofu.
2) Taste Tests: Students at Walker Jones Education Campus help shape the school’s menu through lunchtime taste tests. On “Fresh Feature Fridays,” DC Central Kitchen allows the students to sample vegetables prepared three different ways. Students vote on their favorite preparation method, and the winner makes its way onto future lunch menus. During the 2014-2015 school year, the Physicians Committee teamed up with DC Central Kitchen to offer taste tests of plant-based vegan entrees. The two most popular entrees – Veg-Out Chili and pasta with vegetables and chickpeas – are now in regular rotation at Walker Jones.
3) School Gardens: Gardens sprout on all five Golden Carrot winners’ campuses this year, giving students the opportunity to plant, cultivate, and harvest some of the vegetables that make their way onto the lunch line. Studies show that when children grow their own healthful foods, they’re more likely to eat them and even experiment with new options. Earlier this year, Golden Carrot Award winner Odyssey Charter School unveiled a new garden that will eventually flourish into a 20-acre on-campus farm complete with mango and banana trees.
4) Salad Bars: Leafy greens, fresh fruit wedges, and bean-based salads are staples on the daily salad bars offered at Atlanta Public Schools. Students create their own plant-powered “Salad Bowls” with fresh, local fruits and vegetables. Salad bars have been shown to increase the variety of fruits and vegetables that children will choose. Atlanta has taken the benefits of the salad bar a step further by implementing the “more please” policy: Students can return to the salad bar for unlimited servings of fruits and vegetables.
- I must give a big WHOOP WHOOP!! This is my home town.
5) Nutrition in the Classroom: Another way to introduce students to healthful foods? Model lessons in the classroom off of choices in the lunch room. At Santa Barbara Unified School District, the “Harvest of the Month” program promotes seasonal Santa Barbara-grown produce through classroom lessons and samples on the salad bar. At the high school level, biology teacher Paul Cronshow – known by students as a “whole-foods, vegetable eating maniac” – highlights the connection between nutrition and health, engaging students with green smoothie demonstrations and cooking lessons.
Tip of the Day
Every step counts! If you’re looking for ways to increase steps at work get off the elevator early and take the stairs the rest of the way.