Baby Steps

It was thrilling to hear about LAUSD’s healthier lunch menu options last year, and disheartening to learn of the student’s lackluster response. My initial reaction to LAUSD’s decision to nix the healthier, more diverse fare this year for ‘healthier’ pizza and burger options was outrage! How could they toss out the new menu after only one try?!

But then I considered the tons and tons of food going to waste because of the student’s aversion to the new menu, and in light of the recent Huffington Post article about food wasted in this country, I realized this problem goes far deeper.

Bravo to LAUSD for giving it a try, but the odds were against them from the start! Suddenly switching up a menu isn’t the solution. Kids who are used to eating pop tarts for breakfast aren’t suddenly going to give quinoa a shot. It looks like fish eggs. They aren’t even going to try it, sealed up in a plastic wrapped container in the lunch line. It’s just not going to happen, not when there is a vending machine full of Snapple in the cafeteria and an ice cream truck waiting at the gate.

But switch to a garden setting, and attitudes toward food change. I am constantly amazed how kids will clamor for a slice of cabbage or a taste of basil; how they beg to munch on ripe tomatoes and squeal over strawberries; how they rush to throw their scraps into the compost. How they line up for second servings of freshly harvested salad, and can’t wait to make our garden recipes for their parents at home.

And this is the real solution. Baby steps. Connecting kids to real, fresh food that they’ve grown themselves! From soil to plate.

Recently I had a heartbreaking conversation with a student in the garden. As I chopped romaine lettuce for our snack, she told me she loved it and used to eat it all the time.

“Used to eat it? You don’t eat it any more?” I asked.

“No, it’s too expensive. My parents can’t afford to buy it.”

And this is the sad, sad truth we are currently faced with. Real food is expensive, when purchased in the grocery store. McDonald’s is not.

Again, the real solution is baby steps. This student’s parents may not be able to buy romaine lettuce, but thanks to her school garden, she’ll know how to afford-ably grow it, harvest it, eat it and love it.

School gardens are the answer to changing kids’ attitudes about food. Baby steps…one romaine seedling at a time.