When I tell people I have the best job in the world I really mean it. I feed school kids in Burlington, Vermont. It’s my job and I couldn’t be prouder. Almost everyone has some memory of school lunches – “lunch ladies” in hairnets, dishing out mashed potatoes. We have always been an important part of the lives of the children in our schools, often the first person they meet in the morning, the person who feeds them when they are hungry.
I remember having lunch with a group of 3rd graders. As lunch ended I noticed a few of them had not eaten their lunch and threw it away. I asked why they didn’t bring something from home. They looked at me and said “there is no food at home”. Clearly, our school wasn’t doing its job—these kids were hungry but we weren’t nourishing them. That moment changed the way I do my job, raise my kids and live my life.
I know hunger is real. Yet, I see children getting fatter and I ask, how can the same families struggling to feed their kids also be making them fat? It’s many things; sedentary lifestyles, reductions in physical education, lack of nutrition education, and our fast food culture among others. This crisis could contribute to a generation of children becoming the first to have a shorter life span than their parents. In an effort to reverse this trend, I along with other dedicated child nutrition professionals am using our positions to shape their eating habits and the habits of our next generation.
I grew up on a family farm where we raised much of the food we ate. When I entered the field of child nutrition, I became part of the problem, falling into a trap that catches many food service directors. Financial pressures caused me to purchase food based mainly on price alone. It was not until the last couple of years that I realized I could buy fresh and local products effectively. I joined with a passionate group of people who taught me and learned from me. Together we brought about a positive change in our school nutrition program. We were able to create a link between our nutrition program, the community, and the educational system. But just because I can buy something, doesn’t mean that I can get children to eat it, especially someone else’s children. We enlisted more help: we brought the farmers that grew the food into the schools. We brought the children to the farms. They watched the vegetables grow. They made connections with the farmers and shared that excitement with their parents. They learned to love pizza with pesto and Vermont minestrone soup. Lunchtime is valuable and exciting and our children are engaged.
It is amazing to live in a state that pools its resources and works to solve a crisis that seems overwhelming. I believe that a handful of good people can make amazing things happen.
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