As childhood obesity levels plague our country, school lunch reform has become a movement with momentum. Everyone from Jamie Oliver to Michelle Obama to Top Chef's Tom Colicchio has taken on our school lunchrooms to try and improve the foods fed to our children each day.
But for all the awareness celebrity chefs and politicians have brought to the issue, there's still much work to be done -- work that can be done by parents like you and me, who can fight from the front lines.
Here are five things parents can do to help:
1. Get Informed About the Food. Find out what your school serves and the nutritional contents of the items. Some schools participate in programs like SchoolMenu.com where you can view the information online. If not, ask for the information.
Also, try to drop by and have lunch with your child once in awhile to see what really goes down in the lunchroom.
2. Get Vocal. Get to know the school's food service director and your principal; get involved in the PTA. Let your opinion that you want healthy food served be known. If the school only hears from students as to what they want to see served, then they may respond ... with French fries and chocolate milk. But if parents speak up -- especially as a united force -- and demand healthy options, they're more likely to be served.
3. Offer Your Skills. Schools are typically eager to accept offers from volunteers. If you have a green thumb, offer to help the school plant a garden to grow fresh produce. If you're a great chef, offer to help with recipe development.
4. Educate Your School. Oftentimes school staffs are overworked and may not be aware of some great existing programs to assist them in serving healthy foods. Make sure your school is aware of resources like The LunchBox, a program that offers "Healthy Tools for All Schools," and the Salad Bar Project from Whole Foods that provides grants to help schools offer healthy salad bar options.
5. Lobby Your Lawmakers. Whether you support the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010, which recently passed the Senate, or not, let your representatives know how you want them to vote on this and other pieces of legislation that affect the food our children eat. Calls and letters do matter. They're your tax dollars at stake, and more importantly, our children.
What steps have you taken to improve school lunch programs?
Image via Jeff Sandquist/Flickr