Are the kids “really” eating better in schools?

Or is it just costing the taxpayer more money?

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Consider the average American family that frequents fast food restaurants and whose grocery carts derive over 90% of its calories from meat, dairy, eggs and refined carbohydrates. Now ask yourself how the children in that family (after growing up on McNuggets and pizza) are going to suddenly prefer to eat the “healthier” choices in their school lunchroom.

Our nation’s school systems are putting the cart before the horse and trying to force healthier foods—before educating the parents, teachers and students about exactly what constitutes a true, health-promoting diet. The Los Angeles Times reported last week that five of our nation’s largest school districts plan to use their collective clout (2.5 million daily meals) to promote more wholesome foods in their cafeterias.

The main problem begins with their definition of wholesome foods. From the last paragraph of the article (See link below):

To demonstrate their collective mission, alliance members plan to serve the same lunch at all six school districts in March. The menu: savory roasted chicken, brown rice with seasoned black or red beans, steamed broccoli, fresh seasonal fruit and milk.

Michelle still doesn't "get it." Here she is with a carton of milk as she role models "healthy" eating in our schools.

Michelle still doesn’t “get it.” Here she is with a carton of milk as she role models “healthy” eating in our schools.

If I saw that meal on the menu at a restaurant, I would be thinking that it could be easily transformed into a health-promoting meal—while saving me money at the same time. I might place my order thusly:

“I’ll have the savory roasted chicken, hold the chicken, double up on the rice, beans & broccoli, substitute water for the milk, and the fruit for dessert. One more thing, kindly reduce the price accordingly.”

News about those five huge school districts makes for good press and gets everybody thinking that we’re going to be providing healthier meals for the kids. But the headlines are misleading,  for several reasons. First of all, we’re missing three critical steps:

  1. Education in the home about what truly healthy eating is all about.
  2. Education in the school that reinforces what the parent is telling the child.
  3. Understanding of what constitutes a true, health-promoting diet that is capable of preventing or reversing diabetes and obesity in our children.

Food Studies InstituteAnd savory roasted chicken with cow’s milk ain’t it. In researching for this blog, I spoke with one of my fellow board members at the T. Colin Campbell Foundation. She is Dr. Antonia Demas, the founder and director of the Food Studies Institute—a non-profit devoted to improving the longterm health and education of children: From her website at

Dr. Demas’s “Food Is Elementary” curriculum (see link below), has been used successfully in more than 2,000 schools in 33 states. She consults throughout the U.S. and abroad and trains and certifies teachers as food educators. Dr. Demas is a Visiting Scholar at Johns Hopkins University School of Public Health and at the University of Illinois Medical School

School cafeteriaAntonia spoke candidly about the need to “stress the importance of sensory-based food literacy education as a necessary first step to gain acceptance of new foods.” Without that critical education piece that should begin in the home and then reinforced in the schools—we create a lot of waste (kids won’t eat it) and it costs more money in the long run.

Her reaction reminded me of one of my earlier blogposts about doing the right things; not just doing things right (See link below). In this case, the right thing would be four-fold:

  1. Replace the commercially driven USDA Dietary Guidelines with guidelines that have been scientifically and clinically proven to promote health. 
  2. Promote those guidelines heavily in the media so that parents can learn what they should feed their children if they want them to be healthy, have trim bodies and avoid diseases like cancer, diabetes and heart disease as they get older.
  3. Teach these new health-promoting dietary guidelines in the schools, beginning in kindergarten.
  4. In the school cafeterias, serve only the healthiest of foods. That means mostly whole plants and little if any animal food products or heavily processed carbohydrates.

This is an example of doing the right things. You see, it doesn’t matter how much better you’re doing some “things” if you never get around to doing the right things. From the article, here is a classic example of trying to do the wrong things better:

Each alliance member has been assigned to a specific project. New York, for example, is working on lowering prices for organic, free-range chicken.

Consecutive daily blogs

Consecutive daily blogs

The Bottom Line. Tragically, they’re all missing the main point—“We’re eating the wrong food.” Trying to lower prices for free-range chickens is like re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic.

Ultimately, someone with the influential power of a Bill Clinton must begin beating this drum loudly—every single day. To borrow a line from Dr. T. Colin Campbell’s new book, WHOLE, “No less than our future as a species hangs in the balance.”

Handy 4-piece take-charge-of-your-health kit—from

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J. Morris Hicks, working daily to promote health, hope and harmony on planet Earth.

For help in your own quest to take charge of your health, you might find some useful information at our 4Leaf page or some great recipes at Lisa’s 4Leaf Kitchen.

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Blogging daily at…from the seaside village of Stonington, Connecticut – Be well and have a great day.

—J. Morris Hicks, board member, T. Colin Campbell Foundation

About J. Morris Hicks

A former strategic management consultant and senior corporate executive with Ralph Lauren in New York, J. Morris Hicks has always focused on the "big picture" when analyzing any issue. In 2002, after becoming curious about our "optimal diet," he began a study of what we eat from a global perspective ---- discovering many startling issues and opportunities along the way. In addition to an MBA and a BS in Industrial Engineering, he holds a certificate in plant-based nutrition from the T. Colin Campbell Center for Nutrition Studies, where he has also been a member of the board of directors since 2012. Having concluded that our food choices hold the key to the sustainability of our civilization, he has made this his #1 priority---exploring all avenues for influencing humans everywhere to move back to the natural plant-based diet for our species.
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5 Responses to Are the kids “really” eating better in schools?

  1. Sal Liggieri says:

    When are these venerated spokespeople going to step up to the plate? Is Bill Clinton going to be the Messiah? If he is, then he should start with his fat wife, Hillary.

    • Joanne Irwin says:

      Politics in this country has deteriorated over the past few years. Techniques such as compromise, active listening, being present, and negotiation appear to be lost arts. The issues need to be debated, and our mission to promote healthy eating among the populace is of paramount importance for many reasons. However, there is no need to don the coat of some in the fringe right wing who resort to name calling, lying, and using inflammatory, fear-based language. We certainly would appreciate the likes of Bill Clinton to jump on board and become a true, loud voice, but to call his wife, Hillary, our Secretary of State, who has done an exemplary job in her role – “fat” – is reprehensible and ignorant. To all of us who are trying to make a difference – rationally, sanely and intelligently, you owe an apology, Sal. There is no need for that language or anywhere else!

      • Sal Liggieri says:

        That was a beautifully worded response reprimanding my post. But that doesn’t change the fact that Hillary is fat. There are so many prominent people in public service that are fat. Are these people going to influence America’s eating habits? I don’t think so.

        Let’s not negate the truth with fancy words. America is a fat country . . . and there is no Messiah coming to save us from our marriage to the “cheeseburger . . . the pizza slice . . . and all the other junk food.

        The truth won’t set America free from the obesity epidemic. America is doomed to wallow in its fatness. And that includes Hillary.

  2. Nigel Richardson says:

    Your article is right on target. But will Bill Clinton or someone else lead the campaign to teach healthy eating? Barrack and Michelle certainly could, but they are likely to be somewhat proccupied for the next four years.

    • Linda says:

      I had already planned to write letters to the Obamas after the inauguration, so I was pleased that he mentioned climate change in his speech. All of us should write to explain the impact of the standard american diet on climate change, as well as the connection between diet and the disease-care costs that are bankrupting us.

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