By Ashley Schimke
Farm to School & School Garden Program Specialist for Arizona Department of Education
Arizona Farm Bureau recently wrote an article on their Fill Your Plate blog about how American communities are helping to make the next generation healthier. Concerned about the diet related diseases our children face; type II diabetes, childhood obesity, and heart disease are on the hearts of many parents, teachers, administrators, and even our students. One way we can all make a difference in the health of the next generation is to encourage the consumption of fresh and healthy foods served in school meal programs.
The health and well-being of Arizona students is the primary purpose of the Health and Nutrition Services Unit (HNS) at the Arizona Department of Education (ADE). Tom Vilsack, the Secretary of Agriculture, agrees that attention to better nutrition in schools will help address childhood obesity. Arizona schools are doing just that. HNS believes that when students are well nourished they are better equipped with the energy and focus necessary for academic success.
There is no question that school food has been given a bad reputation in previous years, but with recent updates to the nutrition guidelines for the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) that is changing. The new guidelines require schools to offer more whole grains, fat free or low fat dairy goods, lean proteins, and increased servings of fruits and vegetables. Schools are not only required to serve more vegetables, but they need to include specific vegetable subgroups like legumes, dark green, red and orange vegetables. What parents don’t like the sound of that? In an effort to assist schools through these changes, HNS will begin a regional training series for child nutrition professionals dedicated to increasing student consumption of vegetable subgroups.
Another effort to improve access to fresh and healthy food is through the Arizona Farm to School Program. Student participation in activities like farm tours, school gardens, and learning where their food comes from in the cafeteria teach students to invest in their health, their community, and their environment. Schools interested in offering Arizona farm fresh food in their cafeteria can contact ArizonaFarmtoSchool@azed.gov for more information.
HNS encourages parents, teachers, food service professionals, administrators, and community leaders to be the role models our students need to develop healthy lifestyles. Join us in the fight for the health of the next generation.