When I was in school, it was a given that school lunch would be terrible. Mystery Meat, two day old spaghetti, shriveled hot dogs and other equally unappealing things populated our school lunch menus throughout elementary, middle and high school. On the days when my parents didn’t make me lunch, I used to dread the trip to the cafeteria and the fair that awaited me. Even as a child, I always wondered and never understood why we couldn’t eat meals that were tasty, colorful, interesting and actually good for you. What about a school’s cafeteria made that impossible?
This generation of children is the first in nearly 200 years predicted to live shorter lives than their parents and according the Centers for Disease Control, the childhood obesity rate has sky-rocketed over 300%, from 6.5% of 6-11 year olds in 1980 to 19.6% in 2008. Obese children are more at risk to develop joint problems, sleep apnea, lack self-esteem as well as suffer social and emotional isolation. It has also been proven that if obese children continue to develop into obese adults they are at a greater risk for heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure and cholesterol, all chronic and deadly diseases associated with obesity. It is imperative that we as a country start to change our children’s relationship to food and the first step is address what we are feeding our children, both at home and at school.
There is a slow moving revolution happening in the cafeterias of our nation, a movement that is committed to reintroducing American children to the wonders and benefits of healthy food and school systems like Baltimore City are at the forefront of this long overdue shift. Like many Urban School Systems, Baltimore City Public Schools provides breakfast, lunch or dinner, and in some cases all three meals, to many of its students, making it an ideal location to begin the work of revamping our school’s menus.
With the hiring of Tony Geraci two years ago, Baltimore City Public Schools has put itself in position at the forefront of this movement to not only change the way children eat at school but to really impact the nutrition practices and food understanding of its students. By implementing programs and initiatives like meatless Mondays, where students eat vegetation options to start off the school week and Menu Planning teams, groups of students and school officials who work together to create tasty and healthy school menus, Tony Geraci, Baltimore City School’s Director of Food and Nutrition is attempting to completely change the way we think about school lunch in Charm City.
Unfortunately, it was announced earlier this month that Geraci would be moving to a half-time schedule and leaving the day to day operations of the Food and Nutrition office to a successor. It has been speculated that Geraci sought to curb his daily involvement because of frustration sprouting from the slow implementation of his initiatives but he has repeatedly said family issues are the real root cause. Whatever the reason, I hope that Mr. Geraci and his policies are in Baltimore to stay, if not, I’m sure childhood obesity will be.