For decades, the food pyramid was our basic guide for healthy eating until it was replaced with…what?
The dedicated dieticians and dietary technicians, creative cooks, and other fantastic food service professionals who create nutritious recipes, prepare meals and serve millions of students every day know the answer. And you will, too—if you read to the end of this post.
March is National Nutrition Month, the annual reminder for us to turn away from the dessert table (at least most of the time) and develop healthier eating habits. And March 6-10 is School Breakfast Week, when parents, students and school employees are encouraged to “Take the School Breakfast Challenge” by starting each day with a healthy breakfast.
As a former lunch lady myself, I’m proud to give a shout out to the 40,000 NEA members who are food- service professionals, and all of the 256,000 food-service professionals in the K-12 workforce. Every day, they provide students with the fuel they need for the important work of learning.
Food-service professionals will be joining with other education support professionals next week for the 2017 NEA ESP Conference, March 10-12, in Dallas. They’ll participate in workshops on how to build stronger locals and organize members, develop leadership skills and enhance their advocacy skills for students.
Advocacy brought us the School Breakfast Program, which began in 1966 as a pilot program and provides funds to schools that serve free or reduced-price breakfast, and became permanent in 1975. But many schools, aware of the stigma that can be associated with receiving a free meal, provide universal breakfast programs for all students.
Research backs up what we know from our own experience: When you’re hungry, it’s hard to do anything that takes brainpower. The Food Research & Action Center says that academic problems, as well as behavioral and emotional problems, go up among kids who are hungry.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which took effect in 2014, helps schools do more for hungry students. The act authorized more funding for subsidized school lunches, increasing the number of children served, and authorized the USDA to provide meals for after-school programs in high-poverty areas. It also provided resources for schools to use produce from local farms and gardens and gave the USDA authority to set new, healthier standards for food in lunches.
Now, back to the old food pyramid, our former guide for what we should eat. What replaced it? MyPlate, a place setting illustrating the food groups that are part of a healthy diet. Fruits and veggies cover half the plate, while grains and proteins take up about a quarter each. You’ll notice that there’s no dessert on MyPlate. But let’s be bold and split a slice of cheesecake—we just won’t tell anybody.
Bonus: Ten free things for National School Nutrition Month (and School Breakfast Week)