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April 23, 2009

The Seeds of Change

Radishes I knew sending my daughter to public school would be a lot of work since I went through the same system many moons ago. As Carolyn, a fellow NYC Moms blogger, is finding out, there are many hoops to jump through to ensure your kid gets a good tuition-free education. The other side, and not a flip one, is what they eat once you get them into that wonderful school.

The smell wafting up from the basement cafeteria at my daughter's school induces nausea every morning. In fact, it makes me so grateful that I have the time and means to send her with a home-packed sack of food daily. Our school used to offer two entree choices. I suspect budget cuts are the reason there is only one now. My heart dropped when I looked at this month's menu to see that out of 15 school lunch days, the only option on five of those days was a fried main course (let's not talk about the canned, devoid of flavor vegetables). I wish I could save time in the morning and skip packing lunch, but more importantly, what about the parents who depend on that school lunch for financial reasons?

As co-chair of the Wellness Committee (heads up—every school is mandated by federal law to have a Wellness Policy), I've been collaborating with a hard-working group of parents who are trying to bring in healthier choices. The national average spent on each school lunch is about $2. Not nearly enough to provide healthy milk choices, fresh fruits and vegetables and freshly prepared, not hydrogenated fried, frozen and reheated meals. Rising food prices aren't helping either, as Time Magazine reported last year.

And yet, I hold out hope. First Lady Michelle Obama began work on the now infamous Whitehouse vegetable garden a month ago. As I blogged about shortly after seeing pictures of her digging and planting, I hope this is more change we can believe in. We're in an economic crisis. Our healthcare system is in dire straits. As a country, our health report card is failing. Now is the time to sow the seeds of commitment to healthy, affordable food for everyone—not just the privileged ones who can comb farmer's markets and pony up $5 a pound for organic heirloom tomatoes. I hope that garden at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue is only the beginning of our government understanding that food production belongs in the hands of real farmers, not corporations.

NYC public school parents are already taking action with a petition requesting that SchoolFood only purchase milk free of artificial growth hormones (rBGH). Let your voice be heard.

This is an original post to NYC Moms Blog. When she's not packing lunch, signing petitions and pestering the principal for soap in the bathrooms, Jennifer Perillo is busy testing recipes for her job as food editor at Working Mother magazine. Get ideas for breakfast, lunch and dinner at her other blog, In Jennie's Kitchen.

Photo by Liliya Zakharchenko.

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