By Mary Miller and Destiny Schlinker for the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
Over the last year, business and school closures have led to families worrying about their children having access to nourishing meals. As two professionals who work to keep kids healthy and fed, we see a clear, bipartisan opportunity to support children as they return to school in the fall: the Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act.
Despite the hardships of the past year, it’s been inspiring to see the crucial role that the Arkansas school nutrition community has played in ensuring access to healthy food for our kids. Schools have served brown-bag lunches and delivered meals since the start of the pandemic. In some cases, schools served three meals a day to students and their families.
If you ask a school nutrition leader how they did it, you might hear them talk about their amazing staff, community, and dedication to kids. They may also mention the support of their school’s food educators, such as FoodCorps service members, who teach kids about healthy food in hands-on lessons in classrooms and school gardens. These educators jumped in to help by distributing meals, harvesting school gardens to include fresh produce to give to families–and ensuring students had access to safe, outdoor education.
Food and nutrition education has a direct influence on the lives and well-being of students. An independent Columbia Teachers College study found that kids who receive more hands-on food education were eating up to three times as many fruits and veggies as kids who received less. Through food education, students learn to enjoy vegetables, setting them up for good health for a lifetime. Yet, these subjects are not considered to be a high priority in critical child health policy conversations in Little Rock or Washington.
In Arkansas, where one in five children face hunger, we are lucky to have a legislative champion in Sen. John Boozman, who is an advocate for programs to address this pervasive issue and has seen food education in action during local school visits.
The Food and Nutrition Education in Schools Act prioritizes schools with high rates of free or reduced-priced meals, a clear indicator of community need. Inspired by the FoodCorps model, this bipartisan bill would provide these schools with funding to hire food educators.