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Ask an Expert: Why you should care about school wellness policies

Granted, celebrity chefs whipping up gourmet school lunches cooked from scratch make compelling TV. But Boulder’s own “renegade lunch lady” Ann Cooper says parents shouldn’t forget about the document that governs all school food in America – the district’s wellness policy.

Yes, ever since 2006, every publicly funded school district in the United States has been required by the USDA to put a wellness policy in place. That’s great, right? Well, here’s the problem. Few have been updated to reflect current technology and nutritional guidelines – and some districts have yet to even implement a wellness policy.

Here’s what the EdNews Parent expert and school lunch provocateur has to say:

ENP: How should school districts keep tabs on their wellness policies?

wellness policy is going. Here in Boulder Valley, we just passed a new one a week and a half ago. These things are alive and meant to change. If your school district isn’t serving the food you really want to see or you think it can be better, you really need to start with the wellness policy. You need to see what it says. Maybe it’s been implemented; maybe it hasn’t. Maybe it’s old. If it’s 6-years-old at this point, it really needs to be looked at.

ENP: What updates did Boulder Valley make?

COOPER: We have eliminated high fructose corn syrup and trans fats. We are putting a priority on regional procurement. We have – to the extent possible – experiential learning around food. We’re getting away from processed food. Our wellness policy says every day, children should have access to fresh fruits and vegetables. That wasn’t necessarily said in wellness policies five or six years ago. We also set limits on fats, sugar, and we dictate when vending can be open or closed or school stores.

ENP: What if a parent reviews the policy and realizes the district isn’t following it at all. What can he do?

COOPER: The parent needs to have some friends. All those parent friends need to go to school, eat their child’s food, take pictures, band together, and get on the agenda of the school board. They need to say, “Here’s the policy. Here’s what I see in my kid’s school. You say it’s going to be fresh. Here’s the chicken nuggets. Here’s the canned fruit cocktail. Nary a green vegetable in sight. You’re not following your own policies.” You start there.

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