Getting kids hooked on the green stuff

How do we solve childhood obesity?

This was always my favorite question to be asked during a news media interview.  I never had the courage to answer what I was really thinking which was “if I had a 30 second answer to that we wouldn’t be here talking about it, now would we?”

TV Interview
TV host: “Catrina, how do we solve childhood obesity?” Me: “Do you need to get a drink of water first?  We’ll be here a while…”

I could talk for hours about high calorie, low nutrient junk foods, lack of PE in schools, food marketing to kids, working parents struggling to make a living and no time to shop and cook, unhealthy body image messages and their impact on kids, the list goes on and on.

OR I could talk about what we know works at getting kids to eat healthier and move more, which is much more fun to talk about.

What’s the holy grail of child nutrition?  Getting kids to put something green in their mouths.  I’m talking, broccoli, lettuce, snap peas–you get the picture.  And one strategy continues to really knock this one out of the park all across the country, Farm to School programs.

The term Farm to School typically covers three main activities:

  1. School gardens
  2. Procurement (getting locally grown foods into school cafeterias and served to kids
  3. Education (getting kids involved in learning more about agriculture, nutrition, food systems, etc)

Farm to school programs have really garnered wide support.  The United States Department of Agriculture has put a substantial amount of effort into supporting these types of programs, they have a robust grant program ($5 million dollars are awarded annually!) and they have dedicated staff at the regional and national offices to support these types of programs.  I’ve personally worked with a lot of the USDA Farm to School staff and they are a pretty stellar team.  They also created some very well edited and formatted resource materials on Farm to School topics.

Non-profits have also gotten involved and really bolstered efforts.  The National Farm to School Network is a national non-profit organization that has done an amazing job supporting the buildup of a Farm to School network in every single state plus the Virgin Islands!  The Network’s efforts to support each state in growing farm to school has resulted in some really powerful statewide Farm to School networks, including in my home state of Nevada.  The training and support each National Farm to School Network’s state gets is critical in getting a single point of contact in place in each state to share resources and connect those doing similar work.  The Network also puts on a really stellar national Farm to Cafeteria conference that has included keynote speakers like Alice Waters, a pivotal founding figure in all things farm to school.

Farm to School Network_LI
Is that me under that white arrow at one of many AMAZING National Farm to School Network meetings? Maybe.

What’s all this resulted in?  Kids that are excited to eat something that is green.  Lots of research has shown that kids who get involved with growing vegetables are excited to then eat those vegetables.  Beyond the research are countless stories of kids pulling fresh carrots out of the ground while shrieking with joy, elementary school students discovering the potatoes actually grow in the dirt where you can’t even see them and high school students doing comparisons between hydroponically and aquaponically grown lettuce.  While we can’t really measure the power of joy over carrots, I’m guessing the next time that kid sees a carrot, they are more likely to give it a try instead of a “ewww”.

So if getting kids to eat green things is the magic potion to solving childhood obesity, Farm to School is the caldron from which we can whip up that magical solution. If you love the thought of carrot induced shrieks of joy, click here and support the National Farm to School Network in all their awesome work.

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An experienced leader is federal Child Nutrition program management, Catrina has led statewide efforts for improving school meals, implementing training programs and building collaborative relationships with stakeholders. A passionate foodie at heart, she believes in better food, health and strong community for all.

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