How to Create Sustainable, Positive Change in Child Nutrition Programs in These Days of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act

Perhaps you, too, have been feeling dissatisfied with the current state of child nutrition programming in the United States.

This is the third article in a series, highlighting each of the four foundational pillars that must be in place to grow a healthy, sustainable, high quality, child nutrition program. These pillars are Whole Foods, Scratch Cooking (which we will talk about today), Farm to School (local purchasing), and Marketing. Applying these four approaches will not only feed kids well and grow a vigorous program, but will also contribute to helping our industry pull out of the reputation nose dive that it has been in for years. It will also legitimatize the important work we do as food service directors. These are all good and desirable things!

Pillar #2 – Scratch Cooking:

As the commercial food industry continues working hard to make every kind of food product you can imagine easy and accessible for us to eat, we are losing the desire and ability to feed ourselves. “Slow food” is having a renaissance of late, so there is no doubt that we must get back in the kitchen with some whole foods and start cooking for ourselves again. More importantly, we have to cook real food for our children in our nation’s school meals programs.

I recognize that this is a bigger task for some schools than for others. Many schools moved so far away from the scratch cook model that they don’t have kitchens equipped to do any type of cooking or even reheating. If this is your situation, you certainly have more obstacles to overcome, but this is work important enough to begin advocating for updating your district’s facilities to accommodate the preparation of real food in the future. So take action!

If your schools already have the ability to do some scratch cooking, then it is so important to begin moving in that direction. Set a course and get started!

If you are already doing some scratch cooking, then plan to expand your scratch offerings. Plan it into your continuous improvement plans. Seek assistance from someone who is “a little further down the road” than you. The stakes are too high to let our egos get in the way, so ask for help!

If you have been part of the “real food in schools” movement for a while now, and are getting good at it, you should be offering others a hand. Offer to give neighboring district directors, and their key players, a tour of your operation. Get them excited about serving real food in their schools, too! Answer their questions and share your resources and while you’re doing all that, shout your efforts and accomplishments from the roof-tops (marketing)! The more we band together, the more sustainable the change will be and the faster change will occur. There is no reason any of us should have to rebuild the wheel. There are plenty of resources and many districts who are already doing this fantastic work that you can “go to school” on. Most of these directors are more than happy to share their experiences with you.

It’s time to begin the transition from the fast food/processed food model to the REAL FOOD model. We cannot afford to wait for more funding or a better situation. This work is too important to not take immediate action. The sooner you start the sooner you will see progress. The health of this and future generations depends on our commitment to this vision!

If you don’t know where to start, give me a call and we can talk about some ideas that will get you rolling in the right direction. I love to problem-solve and brainstorm and it will cost you nothing but a few moments of your time to have the conversation!

Kent Getzin