Could it really be that in order to improve school food, all you need is cooperation between parents and school officials? That’s what you’ll hear if you speak to Paul Flock, supervisor of child nutrition for the Olympia School District organization in Olympia, Washington, which made a healthy turn in 2002 after Flock met with parents from the district’s Lincoln Elementary School. The parents asked for limited processed food, organic produce and a significant reduction in sugar.
Determined to meet their requests and knowing the district had no additional funds to support new programs, Flock drew up a self-sufficient plan. In addition to utilizing parent volunteers, Flock tapped into Washington’s Farm-to-Cafeteria program, a state initiative that puts schools in touch with local farmers in order to buy organic produce.
Today, all 18 schools in the Olympia district have a nutritious lunch program. Students can supplement their lunch with an organic salad from the bar or create an entire meal from the line (there are plenty of protein options). One teacher confessed to Flock that she was eating lunch at school for the first time in 23 years, thanks to the new salad bar. Organic fruit is there for the picking, and sodas and sugar-sweetened desserts have been banned.
The new food program costs the same as the traditional program did five years ago. Flock says he “had to juggle things around to make it cost-effective.” His number-one strategy: tapping local vendors. By working with Olympia-based Bagel Brothers, for example, the middle- and high-school students now enjoy a pizza that has no trans fat or hydrogenated oil and derives less than 30% of its calories from fat.
Want to initiate similar changes at your child’s school? Flock has these tips for fostering cooperation between administrators and parents.
- Don’t be scared to call those in charge. They’re people (and parents) just like you.
- Be tenacious. If one official turns you down, go to another.
- Assemble a group of likeminded parents and write down specific examples of what you want.
- Find another district that’s already doing what you’re suggesting, learn how it achieved its goals and apply its model to your own proposal.