Today’s students are tomorrow’s workforce. They are the future of sustainable, healthy communities and a predictor of a strong economy, as lifestyle habits formed in childhood influence adult decisions.
Schools are a critical component of a child’s success, not only academically, but through the development of life skills, such as self-care. Schools and school meals also play a critical role in not only feeding students well, but influencing their decisions outside school walls. By ensuring all students have access to greater quantities of fresh, whole foods that are free of artificial additives and preservatives, and educating them and their families on the academic, physical and emotional benefits of healthful choices, schools can impact the health outcomes of future generations and by extension, our economy.
In 2010, a group of parents united to improve the quality of the foods served in school due to high rates of obesity and diabetes as well as overall poor nutritional habits in their community. The drive among these group of parents to create change later became “Real Food for Kids,” whose mission is to collaborate with school communities to elevate the quality and character of school food, develop and deliver programs that advance literacy in nutrition and health, and engage students and parents in building a culture of health that spreads from their schools to their homes and communities.
Real Food for Kids has focused on advocacy efforts, such as collaborating with school districts to support the reduction of highly-processed foods served at meals, adding more fresh fruits and vegetables, and implementing salad bar programs. They also provide trainings and educational opportunities such as:
- Food Day, an annual event that explores real food and physical activity, and encourages those habits at home with every student and teacher within a Title I elementary school.
- Culinary Challenge, a challenge where students create a healthy USDA-compliant school meal that can be adapted for use by the school district for their menu.
- Chef Academy, a professional development program that teaches school food services staff members basic kitchen skills like how to craft healthier fare using fresh, from-the-farm ingredients to elevate their value to the school community and inspire them when creating school menus.
- Parent advocacy training.
Rodney Taylor, food & nutrition services director for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, has worked with Real Food For Kids to make various healthy changes to their school district: “I truly value the partnership with Real Food for Kids. It is allowing us to transform the school food program in our schools.”
Real Food for Kids also develops educational materials and toolkits to assist schools in creating healthier food environments. Most recently, Real Food For Kids partnered with Georgia Shape and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta to launch a Strong Start Concession program. The program which began last fall has a tiered rewards program approach to help schools create healthier concession stands. Because schools can determine their concession stand offerings (which do not fall under any state or federal nutrition regulations) Strong Start Concessions offers easy tips and tricks to increase the number of healthy options available that promote sustained energy on and off the field.
Real Food for Kids wants all students to be happy, healthy, and strong to support their academic achievement and healthy prospects for their future. For more information, please visit their website at www.realfoodforkids.org or email firstname.lastname@example.org.