Eat Well: How Watching School Lunch Changed Everything

By Jenny Steadman March 13, 2015

At the end of last school year, another mom and I decided that we were going to bring the farm to our elementary school. Farm-to-School, the movement is called. We didn't know how we would do it, we just knew we would. 

With backing from the PTO, a supportive principal and resourceful food service providers, we talked about change. Two weeks ago, we opened a salad bar in the lunch room where the students can get fresh vegetables every day and local produce as it arrives from the farm. 

We thought the best part had happened. We thought offering students fresh vegetables would be the most exciting part of the adventure. Boy, were we wrong.

It turns out that kids don't want to just eat vegetables. They want to engage with you about them. They want to talk about what they like, what they wish we also had (broccoli, olives, onions, fruit and cheese, if you must know). They want to share their victories as they try something new (whether they like it or not) and they want to share the victories of their friends! ("He likes celery!" we hear exclaimed across the lunchroom!)

Never in my wildest dreams, did I think the best part of my day would be talking about vegetables with K-4th graders. Their excitement and eagerness to try new things fills my heart. Kids WANT fresh foods. They WANT a choice about what is on their plates and they WANT to try things on their own terms, surrounded by their friends.

A journalist recently asked me, "Moms are busy. The pizza shop is on speed dial. The kids hate broccoli. Should moms even try?"

My answer is a resounding YES. The truth is, kids learn to love what we feed them, whether at home or at school. We have proven that there is no difference between "kid food" and "adult food" and kids, given the chance, can truly love broccoli. The students who are eating the salad bar at school are coming back for seconds and thirds and throwing away their chicken nuggets, pizza and mac and cheese. 

Parents should try because - and this is a big one - the future of their children depends on it. Their health, their future eating habits and tastes start at home.

As a mom who cooks over 90% of our meals at home, I am in solidarity with every other parent out there who is trying to do the same thing. I have been there and I have done it.

It is one of the hardest things I do every day.

Where is a tired and frustrated parent to start? It is likely that there is one vegetable your kid likes. Carrots? Peas? Corn? Serve it every day. Maybe it's not at dinner. Can you pack it in their lunch? Add a dip? Put some spinach in their fruit smoothie? There are so many ways (and times of day) to get kids to eat vegetables without forcing them down at dinner time.

I encourage parents to look at their kids' diets from afar. If the goal, to start with, is to get them to eat vegetables 3 times a week, isn't that better than worrying about (and fighting over) dinner every night? We teach our children (guilty as charged) that food, especially at the dinner table, is about struggle and power. Who has the desire to sit at the dinner table the longest and fight the strongest just to get one bite of broccoli into that little body? At that point it's not about the food anymore. Kids don't hate broccoli. They hate to lose. 

Food is about fun. Food is about making a choice. Food is about listening to our bodies. Food is about nourishment and being social with the people that we love. Start with that and the rest can fall into place. It's a long haul, I'm not going to lie, but it's worth it.

Jenny Steadman is a health coach with Fuel Your Hunger who loves to work with families. She has 5- and 7-year-old daughters and is in the thick-of-it herself!