Whole Foods, Chef Introduce School Lunch Initiative

Whole Foods Market and Chef Ann Cooper, America’s “Renegade Lunch Lady,” have teamed up to remake school lunches with the “School Lunch Revolution” campaign. The national initiative, which launches in time for the back-to-school season, has the goal of helping schools improve their lunch offerings for children. Included in the effort is an innovative free Lunch Box Web site, thelunchbox.org, which enables foodservice directors to overhaul cafeteria menus.

“It is past time for a wake-up call! Look at what our children are being offered at school: processed foods high in fat, junk food, soft drinks loaded with sugar…the list goes on. We are in the throes of a public health time bomb,” said Cooper, author of “Lunch Lessons” and “Bitter Harvest” and founder of the F3: Food Family Farming Foundation, whose mission is to provide American children with school lunches consisting of healthy, tasty fresh food. “This is the social justice issue of our time, and schools have no money to help solve the problem. I felt strongly about partnering with Whole Foods Market to help tackle this issue because their customers have a successful track record of rallying around a cause and making a real difference.”

The comprehensive site’s tools include:

--Recipes appropriate for all sizes of schools and that can be nutritionally analyzed, tested and costed
--Resources for procuring natural foods, regionally and locally, from smaller vendors to create local food economies
--Training videos covering such topics as cooking techniques and food safety
--Educational tools for parents and children
--Community activism tools to assist any single person, group or task force to effect change in a school system

Over 30 million children eat school lunches federally funded through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), many of them consisting of frozen, processed or packaged foods, with no national standardized limit on sugar or other ingredients like artificial colors, flavors or preservatives. According to Cooper, who cited Centers for Disease Control statistics, one in three children born in 2000 will develop diabetes as a result of poor dietary habits, and 30 percent of them are currently overweight, making the need to revamp U.S. school lunches all the greater.

“If you look at the entire picture, serving healthy food doesn’t have to cost more for schools. Research from the USDA and CDC has shown that switching to healthier options has the potential to increase school lunchroom revenue,” noted Cooper. “I’m confident that with the right tools, schools can learn how to provide more whole, fresh foods menus that nourish our children.”

Now through September, Austin, Texas-based Whole Foods will help support the campaign with a donation and a School Lunch Revolution donation drive at checkout stands in its stores and at wholefoodsmarket.com/schoollunchrevolution.

Additionally, Whole Foods co-president and COO Walter Robb and Cooper will travel to Washington, D.C., to create public awareness about the school lunch crisis and request that lawmakers support stronger nutritional requirements and adequate funding for the National School Lunch Program.

While in the nation’s capital, Cooper will visit the Tenley Circle Whole Foods store and speak about healthy school lunches. She will also visit Chicago, Atlanta, and Houston next month, joining forces community leaders to discuss the importance of healthy lunches and the Lunch Box site, with the aim of effecting change at a grass-roots level.

“With proper nutrition playing such a critical role in improving a child’s behavior, school performance, and overall cognitive development, Whole Foods Market has been searching for the next important way to do our part to improve children’s diets,” noted Robb. “Even in this time of economic challenge, healthy choices for your family always make sense. Our goal is to raise awareness, engage our shoppers and give schools easy access to the tools they need to serve fresher, healthier meals.”

To help promote the cause, Whole Foods’ Web site will feature a series of six short educational videos; a live chat with Cooper on Aug. 28 at 3p.m. CDT; a video contest for PTO/PTA organizations, with the winner receiving a visit from Cooper; and solutions for affordable, healthy lunches.

Additionally, Whole Foods’s in-store value guide, The Whole Deal, will include menus, recipes and coupons.
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