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Denise Mestanza-Taylor's picture

During my college days as I studied to become an elementary school teacher, Wellness and Fitness for the Child was part of my elementary education coursework. Almost twenty years ago, I remember hearing for the first time the horrible truths about saturated fats, food coloring, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup.

 Organic Food | MomsRising.orgFrom then on, I decided to change my diet to live a better life. I began eating more organic and natural foods. I started reading labels and eliminated foods with artificial flavors and artificial coloring, partially hydrogenated oils and high fructose corn syrup out of my diet.

In the classroom, I witnessed the impact that foods containing artificial colors had on my students. Their poor diet affected their ability to focus and often resulted in behavior problems. To no surprise, their school lunches lacked good foods, fruits and vegetables, but rather these same students ate lunches filled with high fat snacks loaded with sodium, food coloring and high fructose corn syrup.

During parent-teacher conferences, I urged parents to change their children’s diet. I encouraged them to make small food changes which in turn would produce positive results in their children’s behavior and learning.

Some parents tried to maintain healthier meals for their children and I would see immediate results in my students’ overall performance, however, unhealthy processed prepackaged food is inexpensive and easy, and eventually, their lunches would be loaded with food coloring and high fructose color syrup again.

Though a handful of my students had parents who supplied their lunches, many of my students came from low income families and depended on school for breakfast and lunch for their daily meals. Those students didn’t have the option to make better, healthier choices when selecting their breakfast and lunch items. They were limited to the choices made available that day.

As a mom, a runner and a former classroom teacher, I understand even more now the importance of fueling our bodies with the right foods and how foods impacts our overall performance. I have honest, open daily conversations with my children about making healthy food choices, portion control and limiting their sugar intake.

Thankfully, First Lady and mother, Michelle Obama, shares the same message as me. Her passion for good food choices helped build better, healthier school meal plans which are now available for all students. Since so many students (approximately 32 million as reported by the USDA) rely on school lunches for daily nutrition, schools must offer healthier choices. As educators, it’s our responsibility to fuel our future leaders with the right foods and protect them from diabetes, hypertension, health disease and obesity.

The new meal plans implemented include whole grain foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, however, the changes go beyond the school cafeteria lunch line. “Foods and beverages sold in vending machines will also contribute to a healthy diet”, as reported by USDA.

For the first time with the help of the USDA nutritional standards for school meals, our children have a fighting chance to learn better and live better.

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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