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Cooking Matters Michigan

Empowering families with the skills, confidence and knowledge to prepare healthy and affordable meals

Filtering by Tag: Schools

Marsha's Story


With five kids, Marsha Kozmor never seems to slow down. Not only is she a busy mom, she has also been involved in her community, a small town just south of Detroit. “I’m on the School Board... I’m the vice president for the PTO for the middle school, and then we have a neighborhood team that runs the Girl Scouts for this area, and I’m on the team. I’ve been a Girl Scout leader for 15 years.” With her family on the go so often, it has been difficult to insist on healthy eating and home-cooked meals. “Well, [mealtimes are] always hectic, just because we’re involved in a lot. I work a lot in the community …so we do eat on the run a lot, and so we eat a lot more junk.”

With so many mouths to feed and on a limited budget, Marsha has learned the value of being thrifty: “I’ve always been a real shopper…, just because I’ve had to be, because of my husband’s income…”

After taking a nutrition and cooking class with Operation Frontline, a program through Gleaners Community Food Bank and Share Our Strength, Marsha noted a distinct change in her family’s eating and shopping habits. Three of her daughters, her twin 12-year-olds and her 16-year-old, were able to take the class with her, learning how to cook healthy meals alongside their mom.

Her 16-year-old daughter has even helped her to cook dinner since taking the class, preparing a Macaroni and Cheese recipe in the Operation Frontline cookbook. “I had to leave, so I gave her the stuff, and I went grocery shopping. I said, ‘Guys, it’s either that or you’re not getting no food.’ She did, and it came out really good! She made the whole thing! She made the whole dinner by herself!”

For Marsha, extra help from her daughters has been a godsend in the kitchen, especially with their busy schedule.  On top of her community work, Marsha has also decided to go back to school, working on a degree in Information Insurance. Although her schedule is packed with obligations, Marsha noted that preparing meals and grocery shopping has become more of a family affair: “[We] went grocery shopping a couple of days ago, and I made them pull out the labels and start reading them… We did this all through the grocery store… ‘OK, we got these eggs. There’s a dozen for $0.99 or you could buy 18 for $1.49.’ …I think it’s a good lesson. You know, I really do.”

Marsha has not only encouraged her own family to adopt the principles in the Operation Frontline curriculum, she has also set up classes for other families in her Girl Scout troop, so that they could learn about food budgeting and nutritious foods as well. She credits the class with helping her family to slow down and spend more time together, saying, “We’re trying – we’ve had a few more meals together. We really try and do that together. Sometimes it might be sitting together in the living room, but we try."

Cooking in Schools


As noted in our post, "Battling Childhood Hunger," the ability to serve good, healthy meals in schools is compromised by the amount of federal funding provided. When you're on a $2.70-per-child budget, what is the incentive of providing fresh food?

The New York Times published an article on Tuesday that talks about schools' inability to cook healthy meals with the equipment they have. Here is an excerpt:

Many advocates for better, healthier school food have begun to believe that the only way to improve what students eat is to stop reheating processed food and start cooking real, fresh food.

But little actual cooking goes on in the nation’s largest public school system, largely because little of it can. Barely half of New York’s 1,385 school kitchens have enough cooking and fire-suppression equipment so cooks can actually sauté, brown or boil over open flame.

Even in those that do, aging ovens sometimes don’t heat properly, equipment is hidden away in storage rooms or broken, and the staff isn’t trained to do much more than steam frozen vegetables, dig ravioli out of a six-pound can or heat frozen chicken patties in a convection oven.

New York is not that unusual. More than 80 percent of the nation’s districts cook fewer than half their entrees from scratch, according to a 2009 survey by the School Nutrition Association.

The slide didn’t happen overnight. As many American families stopped cooking and began to rely on prepared and packaged food, so did the schools. It became cheaper to cut skilled kitchen labor, eliminate raw ingredients and stop maintaining kitchens.

“In school food 30 or 40 years ago, they roasted turkeys and did all of these things,” said Eric Goldstein, the chief executive of the Office of School Support Services.

“We all recognize we want to be scratch cooking again, but we have some challenges to get there.”

You can read the rest of the story here

When we see what kinds of foods students are allowed to eat in school, it's no wonder that we have an obesity problem amongst children and adolescents. More to be said on that in future posts.

Battling Childhood Hunger



Photo Credit: The New York Times. "A meal from the cafeteria at P.S. 89 in Manhattan does not contain processed food."
Photo Credit: The New York Times. "A meal from the cafeteria at P.S. 89 in Manhattan does not contain processed food."

On Wednesday, September 9th, the Detroit Justice, Peace, and Ecology Committee (JPE) of the Province of St. Joseph hosted a national Slow Food USA Eat-In to promote more nutritious school lunches. This event was part of a National Day of Action, where thousands of people across the country shared a meal to demonstrate the need for Congress to pass a better Child Nutrition Act. Among other things, the Child Nutrition Act covers the National School Lunch Program, and an increase in funding would mean healthier food for school lunches. 

Currently, the USDA reimbursement rate per child in public school systems is $2.70, and groups like JPE are asking for an increase of $50 million in funding, equaling to about $1 more per child.

There have been efforts across the country to improve school lunches, including farm-to-school programs, where schools reach out to local farms for a portion of their produce. Similarly, Chef Ann Cooper has partnered with Whole Foods and the Kellogg Foundation to implement a healthy lunch campaign in Berkeley, California; Boulder, Colorado; and Harlem in New York City.

However, there are challenges with implementing these new programs. Because so many schools have been outsourcing their food production (this is where tater tots and fish sticks come in), the only kind of kitchen equipment that's necessary is a microwave. This means that many schools are without traditional kitchens and the tools needed to cook real food.

Along with the additional cost of buying kitchen equipment, schools would also need to hire a larger staff to prepare the food. With an already tight budget, it makes sense why subsidized government commodities look more appealing.

What should we do?

The best and easiest way to introduce healthier food in school lunches is to advocate for the reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act. You can do this by signing the petition or by writing a letter to your congressmen. Slow Food USA also has a few resources that you can use in spreading the word about this issue.

What connects the Child Nutrition Act with hunger?

Ensuring that our children get a healthy meal at lunch is important not only because it will help them to concentrate in school, but also because it might be the only balanced meal that they receive throughout the day. Share Our Strength, the parent organization of Operation Frontline, makes it their mission to end childhood hunger. They recently gathered schoolteachers' stories about the hunger they see in their classrooms. One middle-school teacher said, "The only meals that this little one, Kimberly, was guaranteed were served at school. Anytime we had leftovers, she would always want to take them home. She’d wrap up the leftover food to take home to her little brothers and sisters. She was a second grader trying to make sure her family got fed.”

Here is a video that depicts the hunger that teachers see every day: