Nearly 100,000 schools or learning institutions serve lunch to 29.6 million students each day, according to the School Nutrition Association(Opens in a new window). Unfortunately, many of these meals fall short of government nutrition standards. Foods such as pizza, chicken nuggets and pasta lack nutritional value and solidify the notion that unprocessed fare like vegetables and fruits are for adults.
The result? School meals aren’t as fresh or healthy as they could be. According to the Journal of the American Medical Association(Opens in a new window), 67% of kids’ calories come from processed foods and other research shows most kids consume enough sugary drinks annually to fill a 30-gallon bathtub(Opens in a new window). It’s no surprise then, that childhood obesity rates are skyrocketing: per the American Academy of Pediatrics(Opens in a new window), 14.4 million children between the ages of 10 and 17 are overweight.
“Kids today are up against a lot,” says Nora LaTorre, CEO of Eat Real(Opens in a new window), a California-based non-profit that helps school food leaders transition their menus to real, nutritious and delicious local ingredients. “They’re inundated with the availability of ultra-processed food and disconnected from the food system.”
Improving Kids’ Food Options
It doesn’t have to be this way. Eat Real, an OXO partner via our 1% for the Planet initiative, offers a certification program that provides school food leaders with the framework and support they need to transition their menus, including connecting them with local farmers and producers to source healthier ingredients, like strawberries from the Mississippi delta.
The menus that come out of the program are mouth-watering. Some surprise hits include cauliflower tikka masala and Korean barbecue tacos. “Kids light up over these options,” LaTorre says. “And parents seeking lunch ideas are asking for the recipes so that they can cook them at home, too. That’s what progress looks like.”
Eat Real also works with educators to teach kids about meal planning, gardening, and knife skills so they can pursue healthy options outside of school. Their free newsletter(Opens in a new window) offers parents useful nutritional information and recipes for sustainable food choices, so real food makes it to the plate at home, too. “Kids are showing us that they want it and like it,” says LaTorre. “Families deserve it—and it’s a way to heal our planet.”
Interested in trying some of the kid-approved school lunches from Eat Real-certified districts? Check out these simple recipes.
Mediterranean Hummus Wrap With Feta
Recipe adapted from: Morgan Hill Unified School District, Morgan Hill, CA
Recipe adapted from: Walnut Creek Unified School District, Walnut Creek, CA
Black Bean Sweet Potato Chimichurri Bowl
Recipe adapted from: San Luis Coastal Unified School District, San Luis Obispo, CA
For more delicious dishes kids will love at home or at school, try these packable, on-the-go lunches.