The reality is this: schools are stretched, and if parents see a need to fill, they've got to step up, or their priorities won't be met. Sometimes their initiatives succeed, and sometimes they don't, but doing nothing is the surest way to guarantee stasis.
This is a story about one individual, one company, one school, and a creative partnership to solve a national problem. By way of background and disclosure, this is about the school my children attend, though I was not involved in this success story. In fact, I initially didn't want it to happen at all.
With all the national hoopla about childhood obesity, questionable cafeteria food, and an entire generation of kids accustomed to eating pockets and nuggets instead of stew, or soup, or salad, there may be hope when the public and private sectors collide. Such partnerships can be political and tricky if not forged carefully, but the stark truth is that a private company may have the resources to promote healthful eating when a public school district lacks the funds to do so on its own.
Two weeks ago, a local mother at my kids’ school named Lisa Harris brought Jon Husting of Fresh Choice, a California-based restaurant chain known for its long salad bars, to lead a fresh vegetable tasting for 600+ kindergarten through fifth graders. Over the course of five days, Husting met each class in the library, talked about the importance of eating a variety of colorful produce, and then led the kids outside.
He'd arrived early each morning to set up a table filled with whole produce, and bins filled with eight different sliced vegetables -- green peppers, radishes, jicama, carrots, red leaf lettuce, baby spinach, zucchini, and yellow squash. He, Lisa, and a few parent volunteers (I helped only on day one, since I was traveling the rest of the week) then filled a plate for each child with samples from each of the bins. The children returned to their classrooms with their colorful loot, and their teachers chatted with them about what they were tasting. The school’s principal, Robin Jones, animatedly made the rounds, telling the kids how proud she was of them.Did all kids like all the vegetables? Of course not. But they were excited. Excited to see a long table filled with food outside the library for an entire week; excited to eat snacks outside of official snack time; excited that the principal, and their teachers, were encouraging and enthusiastic; and excited to try something new. Lisa reported that kids swarmed the tables all week long, asking when it would be their class' turn to come eat. The tables caused a scene, in the best possible way.
Now, two weeks after Husting left our campus, jicama is apparently flying out of the cafeteria. Kids who normally shunned the salad bar are asking for cauliflower.
So I tip my hat to Lisa for her creative idea, initiative, and willingness to volunteer so much time. And I tip my hat, too, to Fresh Choice for conducting this program on its own dime. It’s not 100 percent altruistic, of course. The kids received bookmarks, and when they read five books they can exchange the bookmark for a free Fresh Choice meal, so the chain does stand to see an uptick in traffic from our school for its efforts. This was my hesitation, and why I initially didn't support the plan. In my head, I didn't want any private business coming to school, talking to the kids, if it stood to gain financially from the interaction.
But our world is not ideal. It's real. And I'm glad Lisa had the courage of her convictions, or the school salad bar wouldn't suddenly hold so much interest for our kids.
Once a skeptic, I now hope Fresh Choice returns next year.