Today is Food Revolution Day 2013 and I’ve been pondering Jamie Oliver’s quote and my visit to a Reynoldsburg, Ohio, elementary school this week. Actually, I completely support Mr. Oliver on every sentiment in theses sentences. I too want children to know about growing food, cooking recipes, enjoying meals and nourishing their bodies well. But, even more than all these things, I want every student to be fed and ready-to-learn.
In a middle America, lower-income (62 percent free/reduced eligible), ethnically diverse elementary school this week, I saw a school breakfast that exceeded USDA guidelines, but one that might make Jamie Oliver cringe: heat-n-serve mini-waffles in a pouch, fruit juice and milk, much of it flavored. While food purists might wish for steel cut oats, local fruit and unflavored milk, I watched 400+ children grab breakfast in less than 10 minutes, quietly settle into morning classroom routines, and throw almost nothing into trashcans.
While there wasn’t the time, the space or the resources for nutrition perfection, there was an absolute commitment to serving children nutrient-rich calories so that they could focus, concentrate and learn. And, universal breakfast in the classroom at Slate Ridge Elementary is clearly working since it has been named a “School of Promise” by the Ohio Department of Education for three years in a row. This award recognizes high performance in schools with at least 40 percent economically disadvantaged students.
And Jaime, I can assure you that the breakfast offerings themselves are radically different than what might have been served 10 or even 5 years ago – thanks to a combination of food activism, federal regulations, and industry reformulations. Those mini-waffles were 100% whole grain, low-fat, trans-fat-free, and moderate in sugar and sodium. The juice was 100% orange and the flavored milk was fat-free with 10 grams of sugar (less than 3 teaspoons) per 8 oz. Admittedly, not nutrient nirvana – but balanced nutrition for hundreds of young children who might have otherwise had to listen to their stomachs growl instead of focusing on their teachers’ voices.
Are other schools serving meals more in line with today’s culinary trends and foodie ideals? Absolutely, there are schools that make breakfast smoothies with non-fat yogurt and spinach and others that bake whole grain muffins from scratch. Provo, Utah, serves yogurt parfaits and fresh fruits for breakfast – and just this week posted pictures of rosemary chicken made with “hyper-local” herbs grown in their own high school greenhouse. While I frequently praise Provo and other cutting-edge districts for their culinary excellence, I also admire every step that districts like Reynoldsburg are taking to insure that every child has access to breakfast every day. Sometimes we have to serve our revolutions one-step at a time or in the wise words of Teddy Roosevelt “Do what you can, with what you have, where you are.” Once you have the basics in place – like breakfast for every child, every day – then you can make improvements one delicious, fresh, local step at a time.