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Rethinking the way we feed our kids
Rethinking the way we feed our kids

Here's a research finding that hurt the hearts of two women interested in food: Children born in the year 2000 could be the first in our country's history to die at a younger age than their parents.

Their diet is the reason.

Appalled, Ann Cooper and Lisa Holmes got to work.

"We set about, in our own ways, to help kids make healthy changes in their lives," they said in the opening pages of their new, collaborative book, "Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children" (2006, Collins, $22.95).

The result is a book of facts, figures, trends, recipes, hints, inspiration and a general call-to-the-kitchen plea for families and schools to pay attention to what kids eat, and what adults feed them.

Holmes, administrative director of the Periwinkle Montessori School in Falmouth, Mass., and Cooper co-wrote "Bitter Harvest" and "In Mother's Kitchen." They share a passion for kids and good food.

Cooper is now in her second year as director of school lunch and meal programs for California's Berkeley Unified School District, which serves breakfast, snacks and more than 4,000 lunches a day in 16 public schools. A year after hiring Cooper, 90 percent of all food served in the district is made from scratch, fresh fruit and vegetables are served daily, and every school has a salad bar.

Cooper, a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, is the former executive chef for the Ross School in East Hampton, N.Y., an alternative school that developed a nutrition program around local, organic, seasonally available, wholesome and from-scratch foods.

Every school has the same barriers - lack of money and time for food and preparation, lack of money and time for training, lack of lunchtime help, Cooper said in a telephone interview. But some schools are trying valiantly to knock down those barriers, to provide healthier choices and to change the way American kids eat.

Missoula has made some important strides in its Farm to College program at the University of Montana, and now a Farm to School program in primary and secondary schools. Local school administrators also are studying wellness programs that include taking soft drinks out of high schools.

"It is up to us, the consuming public, to not only get fast food out of our public schools, but to improve the quality of school lunches," the authors say in their book. "Changing the way we feed our children is not a luxury: It's an imperative."

Some experiments schools are trying:

• "Dirt to plate" connections that include letters and photographs from regional farmers about their products and food.

• Changing state school nutrition efforts to include "SchoolFood Plus" type programs, emphasizing healthier menus, products, recipes and food.

• Securing help from some well-known restaurants and organizations, including Alice Walters' Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley.

• Starting programs that use food as teaching tools and explorations: During the fall, students might study apples, for instance, reading letters from an apple farmer, cutting apart apples, talking about trees, creating posters, comparing tastes of different apple varieties, and developing food adjectives around the fruit.

• Involving the kitchen in the curriculum where appropriate - preparing a dish from the Renaissance or tastes of spices from India, for instance.

• Planting gardens on school property, so that kids watch and help in the production of food, to experience how it gets to their table.

Cooper will be in Missoula Friday, meeting with school-lunch personnel and school administrators and trustees. She also will talk and sign copies of her book at Fact & Fiction that evening.

"Lunch Lessons" includes about 70 recipes for parents and schools alike, some from partner organizations, including the Ross School in New York; the Chez Panisse Foundation in Berkeley; FullBloom Baking Co. in northern California; and the Community Food Resource Center in New York.

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