It's time to start talking about solutions, not only the problems. I believe we can have an impact on the issues facing our society regarding healthy food in schools and the obesity epidemic if we focus on both ends of the spectrum—the bottom-up local grass roots level and the top down regulatory and government level.
From the top:
We live in a country where USDA nutrition standards consider (using only a few examples here) pizza and French fries as vegetables—which means they can be served to our school-aged children every day of the week. If that is the standard that we set; if the bar is set at that low a level, then kids are far from safe. No one can re-invent the system overnight, but parents and educators need to step up and say, “this is not helping our children and it must change.”
Here is another awful oversight in our current system: refined foods. None of the school nutrition standards in place today address those at all. Until Congress changes the guidelines, large companies will not change what they serve. We all know pesticides, chemicals and preservatives are horrifically bad for us—as kids and adults. Yet, we treat all fruits and vegetables the same. Do you think peaches that were grown on a farm 50 miles away and picked yesterday have the same nutritional value as those that were picked 6 months ago, shipped half way around the world, dumped into a sugary syrup (most likely high fructose corn syrup) and canned? Take a look at the typical school lunch fare and you will find more of the latter than the former.
Studies have shown that food dyes and other additives can increase hyperactivity and cause other behavioral problems; children who ate fast food three or more times per week performed lower on standardized tests in reading and math. Today, Red Rabbit is successfully bringing healthy meals to thousands of school children across the Greater New York Area every day, with great results.
Though I think the Let's Move Campaign is a terrific first attempt at setting a good example, we need to go further and deeper into the system to make wellness, fitness and healthy food options something all kids—of all socioeconomic backgrounds—have access to.
Small companies like ours want to do something about food insecurity but we are often discouraged by the myriad of regulations. We are willing and able to provide healthy food in a safe manner, but someone has to step in and help us navigate the “endless administration and red tape” that surrounds the system.
Companies like Red Rabbit go above and beyond to provide top notch meal programs using local, sustainable food sources—typically at the same price as the current poor quality options found in most schools. Doesn’t that contradict what you may have been led to believe?
Parents and educators are reaching out to smaller companies like ours for all of the above—and something else—education and support of local suppliers.
Through partnerships with local and regional suppliers, we are able to contribute to the health of our local economy and also provide operational efficiencies that translate into savings which we then pass onto our parents and schools through competitive pricing. Other similar organization like City Fresh Foods in Boston, and DC Central Kitchen in Washington DC have made the health and wellness of children and the local community a greater priority than making a profit.
Additionally, by combining healthy meal programs with nutrition and cooking education, we can extend the benefits of healthy eating beyond the classroom and into the home. Local NY based non-profits like the Children’s Aid Society, The Palette Fund and Food Fight (to name a few), are all making a concerted effort to embed nutrition education as a basic component of our education system.
I believe that kids need both healthier food and nutritional education, that’s why Red Rabbit provides both. Though we are a successful and growing company, we still need parents and educators like you—reading this blog—to voice your opinions. Ideally, we all rally together and tell those that are in a position to make decisions about healthy eating choices in our schools that we demand better. At the end of the day, what we do—or don’t do—will affect our kids’ health, well being and performance at school for many years to come. I’d like to hear from you and your thoughts on healthy eating.
Rhys W. Powell
Founder & President