Let’s Move! Campaign Celebrates a Year of Healthier School Lunches

It’s been one year since First Lady Michelle Obama urged schools to serve healthier meals as part of her Let’s Move! Campaign to fight childhood obesity, and school lunches are already looking a whole lot leaner. 

Food service professionals — longtime advocates of boosting nutrition levels in school meals — are doing their part to dish up more fresh fruits and vegetables and less fatty, frozen options with the help of the national attention and support Let’s Move! is generating. 

“Our food service programs are so important,” says Donna Swanson, the cafeteria manager at Spanish Fort High School in Alabama. “It’s all about starting young and helping kids make good choices.”

Traditionally pre-packaged and over-processed, school lunches have been a key ingredient in the obesity epidemic, research shows. A study of more than 1,000 sixth graders in several schools in southeastern Michigan found that those who regularly had the school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.

 That’s why serving healthy school lunches and introducing students to healthy options is more important than ever, says Marie Knutson, a food service worker at Lien Elementary in Amery, Wisconsin. “How can we expect children to develop and grow if we don’t feed them properly?” she asks.

 Over the past year, the Let’s Move! campaign has worked with schools to get more salad bars in cafeterias, to plant more school gardens, and to encourage all educators, not only food service personnel, to talk about the importance of nutrition and leading a healthy lifestyle.

“Over the last year we’ve fundamentally changed the conversation about how we eat, how we move and how we get our food,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “Communities across the country are implementing creative solutions to ending childhood obesity. Together, we’re making a real difference in the lives of children and today there’s a real sense of hope that we can end childhood obesity.”

At her school, Swanson is making a difference in the options she offers to students. She makes sure a rainbow of raw vegetables pops off the cafeteria line, with a little low fat dressing on the side.

“Children eat with their eyes,” she says. “If you can make it look good, they’ll try it. And they’ll learn to like it.”

More education support professionals will learn how to make healthy food look and taste good at the NEA Education Support Professionals Conference in Washington, D.C., March  11-13. A two-hour food demonstration will show attendees how easy it is to prepare healthy snacks, not only for kids but also for themselves.

Let’s Move! Executive Director Robin Schepper will also be at the conference to speak to attendees about the campaign.

“We want to show all of our members, not just food service professionals, that the concepts of the Let’s Move! Campaign can be applied to all of us,” says Roxanne Dove, Director of the ESP Quality Department. “We need to take care of our students, and also ourselves.”