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Catarina Rivera's picture

When I was a teacher at an elementary school in the Bronx, I noticed that my students had poor diets. They started off their day with candy from the bodega and walked into class with blue tongues. For lunch, some students would eat the school lunch but many would eat their own lunch- usually some bags of chips and sugary drinks. I became very concerned about the impact of their diet on their moods and their ability to learn. I created a healthy food policy in my classroom and educated my students about nutrition. But one person can only have a limited impact. Now change can happen faster for our kids because of the USDA Nutritional Standards for School Meals and Snacks. This exciting piece of legislation raises the bar of the foods our kids will eat and also provides support for schools in implementing the changes. Hopefully we will see a reduction in childhood obesity due to these new guidelines.

Catarina Rivera |

Improving school lunches and snacks can potentially resolve another problem I have seen in our youth. I currently work at an after school program for middle school students in Harlem, and many students come to us very hungry because they have not eaten breakfast or lunch. This is very troubling because they are depriving themselves of the fuel that is necessary to function and also do well in school. The students tell me they do not like the food that their schools provide. We serve a healthy snack every day and offer a variety of fruits and vegetables. We have found that our students love eating our home cooked meals and respond very well to nice presentation. They have even become fans of the salad bar! Changing taste buds happens over time and it is important to involve the students and staff as much as possible in the process. The changes to the meals under the new guidelines should result in tastier, fresher, and healthier food. I hope they all dig in!

The most exciting parts of the guidelines are that students will be offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week and that schools will increase their offerings of whole grain-rich foods. This will substantially improve the quality of the meals and expose students to try different fruits and vegetables. The increase of 6 cents per meal will be a big help in making sure schools can follow the guidelines. Now it depends on all of us to support the new standards, encourage students to eat school food, and push schools to offer amazing meals. Schools should be creating communities of wellness where everyone is a stakeholder in securing a healthy future for all students. Implementing and supporting the new USDA standards are the first steps we can take nationally that will move all of us forward.

This post is part of the National School Lunch Week with Healthy Food! A MomsRising Blog Carnival. Take a moment to read and comment on these thoughtful blogs, then tell us your story. Our stories are powerful and are what led administrators to set these rules in place.

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