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Citizen's View: What our children eat matters - for their health and our planet's
Most parents struggle daily with getting their kids to eat healthy food. But what does that mean?
At the Lake Oswego Sustainability Network (LOSN), we want kids to choose food that is healthy for their bodies and for the planet, because our personal health and our planet's health are inextricably linked.
For example, even if our children are eating healthier, if we don't reduce food transportation and waste and limit the piles of packaging sent to landfills, our planet will continue to get warmer. Increasingly hot summer temperatures create more smog, which causes more people to suffer from asthma. In the Portland metro area, 450 people die of asthma every year, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
So how we eat matters not only to our personal health, but to our planet's health. And how we treat the planet matters not just to this big ball of carbon and other elements we call Earth, but to every living thing on it, including us. And it will matter to our children long after it ceases to matter to us.
To get started toward healthier children and a healthier planet, LOSN has convened a group of parents and community members in Lake Oswego who are seeking healthier food choices — healthier for our children, and healthier for the planet they are slated to inherit. One of our first actions has been to distribute an online survey asking people what kinds of changes they want to see in school lunches; you'll find it at tinyurl.com/LOSchoolLunch.
So far, more than 250 people have filled out the survey. Some of the results thus far include:
96 percent report that they are interested in making Lake Oswego school lunches healthier;
88 percent support including more fruits and vegetables;
80 percent want to see less sugar;
75 percent support banning high-fructose corn syrup;
74 percent support serving more local produce or food products;
43 percent want to see less food waste; and
40 percent want to see less packaging, and thus less plastic waste sent to landfills.
These numbers are encouraging. They show that people are interested in this topic. And many people reported that they'd be willing to address the School Board about the topic or volunteer to help in other ways.
Initial discussions with Christi Hogan, the school district's food services director, have also been extremely positive and productive. Early changes Hogan has implemented include:
— Switching to nitrate/nitrite-free lunch meats;
— Purchasing local kiwi berries and including them seasonally in fruit & salad bars;
— Purchasing two cases of local, organic cauliflower from Luscher Farm;
— Switching to a high-protein brand of yogurt; and
— Purchasing Painted Hills grass-fed beef from Oregon for taco meat.
We have also learned a lot from Hogan, including how strict the federal school lunch rules are. We have learned how limited the kitchens are in every school except Lake Oswego High School, and that there are no cafeterias in the elementary schools, which increases the district's labor costs to serve food in some schools.
Moreover, none of the schools have sufficient kitchen facilities to prepare the kinds of meals many parents want to see. Most of the meal preparation occurs at the district kitchen, located at Lake Oswego High School.
One fantastic opportunity to address the limited facilities is at Lakeridge Junior High School, which will be rebuilt with funds from last year's bond measure. The new junior high should include a full kitchen with adequate equipment and facilities to prepare and serve nutritious, wholesome meals made with at least some local ingredients and less packaging. The school should also have clearly marked and conveniently located recycling, composting and trash bins.
We realize we are not the first people to encourage changes in Lake Oswego school lunches, and we may not be the last. We hope we can bring together anyone and everyone who has or wants to make change in a collaborative partnership that seeks solutions.
Natalie Bennon is a Lake Oswego resident, mother of two elementary-schoolers, a member of the Lake Oswego Parks Board and co-chair of the LOSN food committee.
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