In 2010, the United States Senate approved a bill that put school nutrition in line for a major makeover. It was called the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 and includes National School Lunch and Breakfast standards.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted to fund an increase in the billions to child nutrition programs. The program looks to see not only a reduction in childhood hunger, but also to improve the guidelines for which foods can be served in school and on campuses. The bill specifically looks at how to reduce childhood obesity, an epidemic that is sweeping the nation’s schools.
Schools are rewarded at a rate of 6 cents per meal if they meet new nutritional guidelines for school lunches. Farm-to-School Programs are also receiving funding as are school garden initiatives that aim to provide more local produce for the school’s use.
The main directive of the bill is for the School Nutrition Standards to receive a much needed update. They are now going to require cafeterias to serve more fresh and less canned foods. School menus are also to see an increase overall in the number of fruits and vegetables served. More free lunches are going to be provided to students in need to help ensure that they are eating healthy, at least while in school.
So is all this talk of nutritional rewrites enough? Probably not. The guidelines do not require the food to be organic, nor do they state where the food can come from. Inferior quality fruits and vegetables may still be on the menu. The government will have a hard time checking up on every school cafeteria in the country, so chances are that in the poorer districts, where greater nutrition education is so desperately needed, the quality of the food will still be sub par.
Walk into any school lunch room and you will still find pizzas that look like Styrofoam rounds topped with plastic cheese. You’ll still see ice cream being served to children who have not eaten a decent meal, and you’ll still find children selecting cookies instead of the apples or oranges being offered. Obviously, nutritional guidance and education is still needed, and it needs to start early on.
An overhaul of the nutrition guidelines is definitely a step in the right direction though. However, moms and dads need to provide continuity in what they feed their children for breakfast, snacks, dinner and on the weekends. Still, a few decent meals a week at school are better than none, and they may create in students a love for the taste of fresh foods. But without follow up at home, children will revert back to whatever is being served.
A lot of the problem with America’s eating habits have to do with the fact that fresh foods cost more than processed foods and are more difficult to shop for. A busy parent can run into the gas station store for a few cans of Beef-a-Roni, spend only a few bucks, and be in and out in minutes instead of stopping at the grocery store for the longer process necessary to select and buy fresh produce. And if you have to carry it all home on the subway in the dark, it’s that much less appealing to shop for fresh foods.
So what is the solution to this unprecedented occurrence of childhood obesity? Education is one part of the solution. Getting fresh foods in the hands of the children who need them is the other part. Farmers are working directly with schools now, but that number can be increased so that every school has its own farm market of sorts to pick from. Inner city students are at the highest risk for obesity related health concerns like type 2 diabetes. Those are the children who are eating fried nacho chips and candy for lunch. It’s going to take an awakening of parents, concerned citizens, and the local and national government to keep working together to ensure that quality foods are at hand and processed snacks are removed as a constant option.
When there’s little left at the end of the month for food, parents are at a crossroads. Do they buy the cheap chips and snacks and get a lot of food? Or do they try to buy organic and not have enough food for the family for the week? It’s a conundrum that is made worse by a vicious cycle. Organic foods aren’t within reach in poverty-level budgets, so they are not offered. And since they are not offered in certain high-need areas, families can’t buy them.
Working together is the key to solving the nation’s school lunch overhaul dilemma. It’s never too late to contact your school district officials and offer to lend a hand and make your voice heard for the children’s sake.
So, are school lunches green enough? No, but they are on their way to positive improvements. With some effort, greasy, fried and nutritionally valueless foods will appear less on school lunch trays, and we will be much closer to solving the childhood obesity epidemic.
You might have noticed the new movement happening in food. Originally, it seemed that very few individuals were going to go the organic route, but now grocery stores all over America have organic sections for many of the most commonly consumed products. So, what is all the fuss about? Is there really a reason to opt for those products when feeding your children? There truth is that one study after another is finding favor with organic foods – especially fruits and vegetables – and one of the reasons for this is the use of pesticides when growing standard produce.
Over the last couple of decades, researchers have been working tirelessly to determine causes of cancer. This disease has infected or killed millions of people in this country alone, and it is a tremendously scary fight to have to face. So, it makes sense that people are constantly trying to avoid those substances that are linked to its formation. This gives our children and grandchildren an advantage that we didn’t have. If they can know which things to avoid, then perhaps they will not know cancer as the epidemic it is today.
Battling Lymphoma Lymphoma is a terrifying form of cancer that affects the white blood cells, which means that it can easily and quickly spread throughout the body. More than half of the people diagnosed with the horrible disease will die within five years of receiving the diagnosis. Worse, until their passing, it is likely that they will face a series of troubling treatments, which are meant to kill the cancerous cells, but can also wreak havoc on the body. The foundation built in honor of the victims of this disease has compiled a catalogue of different studies done in reference to Lymphoma, and among the troubling findings that came from that collection is that pesticide exposure is very likely a major cause of the disease.
Approximately one hundred studies were done on the connection between the chemical plant treatment and the development of the two varieties of Lymphoma – Hodgkin’s and non-Hodgkin’s – and the results were astounding. More than seventy-five percent pointed to a direct correlation. While this does not prove with one hundred percent accuracy that pesticides are to blame, it does give reason for concern. One of the primary pesticides tested was something called atrazine. This chemical is widely used in corn crops across the country. That means that not only will corn absorb the chemical, but also that the cattle and bird populations that are fed with it will be contaminated, and so will the ground water in that vicinity. It is also thought that this very same pesticide can cause the decrease of stamina, coordination, and the ability to learn.
Similar findings have turned up evidence of a connection between colon cancer and a chemical called Dioxin. This is a common element of herbicides. Herbicides are frequently used in farming to reduce weed infestation. This makes it easier to harvest the crop and lessens the risk of the weeds robbing the crop of necessary nutrients. Though the connection has formally been reported as non-conclusive, we are forced, once again, to give serious consideration to what we put in our bodies.
On a wide scale, organic farmers have made it possible to buy foods that are uncontaminated by pesticides and herbicides. However, it is not just the actions by large farms that are leading to these chemicals getting into the soil and into our water supplies. Many of the dangerous chemicals are found in the products we buy for our own personal gardens. Fortunately, we do not have to choose between pests or pesticides. There are means to keeping unwanted plants and pests out of a garden without the use of dangerous chemicals. There are many natural remedies that can be used to keep both weeds and bugs at bay. For instance, plant-based pesticides are all natural. They are derived from plants themselves and are strong animal deterrents by nature.
Included on the list of botanical pesticides are nicotine, plant sterols, and urushiol (taken from poison oak and poison ivy). These natural repellents can be purchased from many home improvement stores. You might even consider making your own organic pesticides. For instance, combining one cup of tobacco and one gallon of water and allowing it to sit overnight, can produce a lightly tinted liquid that is great at keeping pests away. However, keep in mind that this combination is not meant for pepper, tomato and similar plants, as it can injure or kill the plants. Another good one that is okay for the vegetable garden is garlic spray. A mixture of garlic, water, onion, and cayenne pepper can be quite effective at keeping many common garden dwellers away. It can also be stored in the refrigerator up to one week for continued use.
While you may find it slightly less convenient to opt for all organic, in the long run, you will likely find that it was very worthwhile, and that you, your family, and the planet will benefit from your choice.
Finding out that one is pregnant is often one of the happiest moments in a woman’s life. Yet, this also means increased responsibility. Many believe that the responsibilities come after the baby is born, but that is not the case at all. From the moment that one learns of pregnancy, there is an underlying understanding that the woman will do all she can to protect the growing life within her. That often means making changes to eating habits, dropping bad or dangerous behaviors, and even altering household activities. Nevertheless, all of these changes are worth it because in the end, when she holds that precious little bundle, she will know that she has done everything she could have to give the baby the best chance possible. This article sets out to discuss five of the most important changes a woman can make in her life to protect the baby in her belly – from diet to environmental concerns.
1. Eating Etiquette
There is always a concern about diet when a person finds out that she is pregnant. Though there is justification for feeling that way, the truth is that much of what is recommended for diet when pregnant is the same or very similar to what a person would need in order to be healthy herself. For instance, a pregnant woman should eat a variety of foods. This, of course, is always the case. We have been taught since grade school that we should eat foods every day from all of the food groups. This might be a time, however, to explore different foods that one has not been accustomed to eating. That is not to say that a pregnant woman should run out and try sushi for the first time or even that she should begin to gorge on pig’s feet after never having eaten them before.
What it does mean is that a woman might begin to eat whole grain breads that are rich in fiber, rather than opting for the traditional white bread. She might want to consider cooking with flaxseed or with different types of olives as these foods are high in essential fatty acids. This type of experimentation can make a change in diet a little more exciting. This is also a great time to start buying locally or buying organic foods that are not subjected to chemicals and pesticides. Finally, she might want to consider eating small meals more often. As the uterus grows, it can make it harder for the woman to eat big meals because the stomach doesn’t have as much room to expand. However, there is the need to eat a few more calories than usual, which means that eating more often can be a big help.
2. Facts on Folic Acid
This may seem like a strange requirement made by the prenatal doctor, but there is good reason that he or she would recommend folic acid. Taking this supplement before and during pregnancy can help make horrible diseases preventable. On the list of neural tube defects that are correlated with low folic acid intake are spina bifida and anencephaly.
Spina Bifida is a birth defect where the child’s vertebrae do not grow correctly. They fail to protect a portion of the spinal cord. More often than not, kids diagnosed with this disorder will grow normally, but in some severe cases, delays in walking and other activities can occur. In even less common cases, the skin can be open and the spinal nerves may be exposed.
Anencephaly is the improper development of the brain. It occurs when one end – the end nearest the brain – of the neural tube fails to close in the third trimester. In most cases, children are born with only a portion of the brain, which is left exposed without the protective covering of the skull and skin. Babies diagnosed with this disorder rarely gain consciousness.
These are two very scary (but very rare) possibilities, but they do help point to the importance of improving folic acid intake during pregnancy. This is found in foods such as beans, citrus fruits, peas, spinach, and broccoli. A woman should consult her prenatal doctor on how much folic acid is healthy and how much is too much.
3. Cut the Caffeine
This point is something that we are always warned of. Caffeine intake can have serious consequences on a person’s ability to sleep and even function normally, but the stakes are even higher when pregnant. Too much caffeine can cause dangerously low birth weights.
4. Managing Mercury
Mercury, which is often found in high levels in many different fish, is something that should be avoided while pregnant as it can negatively impact brain and nervous system development in an unborn baby. It can pose less serious health problems for both the mother and the child as well. There are plenty of online resources that help determine how much mercury is acceptable in the daily diet, but it is always best to consult the prenatal doctor for further details.
5. Careful with Cosmetic Care and Cleaning Chemicals
Though one may not consider it when not pregnant, there are many chemicals used in cosmetics that are not good for the person and are even more potentially dangerous for a growing fetus. Pregnant women should attempt to cut back on cosmetic use, should not dye their hair, and should consider the use of organic and natural make ups that do not utilize such chemicals. Beware that some products that claim to be natural are not always truthful. Read the label or opt for 100% organic.
Similarly, there are many chemicals that we use around the house that can be harmful to the growing baby. Cat litter is a commonly known no-no when pregnant, but one should also avoid over exposure to bleach, ammonia, and other highly toxic chemicals. There are many all natural products on the market today that offer comparable cleaning power.
You have probably heard a lot about organically grown cotton and bamboo fiber clothing since their popularity has been increasing over the last few years. Perhaps you are now having your first baby and are wondering what the fuss is all about. If you never had children before, you may not have given a second thought to what baby clothes are made of. But now that your own little bundle of joy is on the way, you may start taking note of the differences between organic clothing and traditional garments.
Believe it or not, traditional clothes are made using pesticides. It’s scary to think, but the clothing that could be touching your baby’s skin could be laced with pesticides. It’s true though. The cotton industry, in particular, is notorious for using huge amounts of pesticides. In fact, they use a quarter of all the pesticides in the world in the processing of cotton.
Cotton crops also require huge amounts of water to grow and harvest. So, using the methods common today, there’s not only a huge dusting of pesticides which are known to cause cancer, there’s also a siphoning off of precious water from animals, plants, and people who need it.
Once your eyes are opened to the benefits of an alternative route to clothing manufacturing, you may never go back to regular cotton again. For babies, there’s no reason ever to dress them in anything but organic cotton or bamboo fiber clothing.
When you go into a store and see a cute cotton romper, the first thing you are thinking probably isn’t, “Gosh, I bet that has pesticides all over it.” No, you’re probably just thinking how darling it would look on your baby, and that’s only natural. But if you read the label and don’t see an “organic” symbol or the word “organic,” you may want to pass that garment up and instead shop online or in stores that sell organic cotton clothing. You will be surprised to find that organic cotton and clothing made of bamboo fibers is actually much softer than the traditional, pesticide-processed cotton. It’s supple and smooth and you will be delighted to put it next to your baby’s delicate skin.
In fact, there’s nothing that even comes close to organic fibers when you’re talking softness. Another benefit is that organic materials also wick away perspiration, moisture, and diaper leaks. You’ll find that organic materials are anti-microbial and also anti-static. There’s a whole wealth of positives to buying organic cloth.
In addition to the softness and other benefits of wearing organic, you are also helping organic farmers and their families. With more of a demand for organic cotton clothing, these farmers produce more and their families earn more. That will help decrease the demand for traditional cotton and those farmers can start growing organic. Pesticides are handled daily by small farms each day and are often to blame for injury and death if they are spilled or misused. The farmers, however, have no choice. If they want to eat, they have to farm with whatever means the buying company is asking for.
For every organic purchase you make, you are helping to boost the organic market. More products will them be created in pure, organic fibers and you’ll have even more of a selection.
At this point, you have probably guessed that organic fiber clothing is a bit more expensive, but here’s why. First, the process is done by hand. So many more hours of labor go into the making of an organic garment versus a manufactured garment. Also, the process itself costs more and takes longer. Additionally, with the demand for organics currently being less than the demand for traditionally grown cotton, the price has to cover the cost of making fewer garments that are more expensive rather than bulk items that are inferior and cheaper to produce.
Given the choice, of course most people would want to put themselves and their baby in organic clothing, but there will be times you’ll still need to use regular cotton. For instance, you probably received many regular cotton outfits at your baby shower, and you’re probably not going to just toss them. But what you should do is give them a good washing before baby wears them. Use mild detergent and be sure they are rinsed well. You may even want to give them a second rinse in cool water to get any remaining pesticide residue off.
You can also try organic sheets, towels, comforters, socks, hats, outerwear and more for you, your baby, and your whole family. There are even organic pet clothes available online and in stores. Plan to redo your family’s wardrobe little by little. As your kids outgrow their sizes, replace them with organic cotton clothing. As you shop for new clothes, make them organic and donate your older clothing to charity. Little by little you can create a green wardrobe and a green household. It’s not that hard once you get into the habit of choosing organic first.
If you want to see your child’s school become a greener place, enlist the help of others. You can’t do everything by yourself, but you can do great things if you all work together. Join the PTO or PTA organization that includes parents and teachers working together. Get on the board and see if you can start making things happen.
First, target a few areas you want to tackle. You can’t spread yourself too thin and still get the best results. What’s most important to you? Is it a school lunch overhaul that includes more organic foods? A safer and more ecologically minded playground? Is it conserving resources like paper? Or using less electricity? Whatever your chosen cause is, make a go of championing it to the fullest.
Start a grass roots movement by creating a slogan for your campaign. Make it a line item at the school’s board meetings so you can get everyone interested and on board. Design an eco-friendly t-shirt that tells about your campaign and have it printed with vegetable inks. Sell them as raffle prizes, at bake sales, and at any school events where you’re allowed to do so. Start raising funds so you can do more for the cause.
Let’s say transportation, or bussing students, is your biggest concern. You can try forming a carpooling system with other families who live around you. You’ll save wear and tear on your own car by only driving and picking up one day a week. You’ll also save on gas, especially in areas where there are no school buses or your child’s school is located a great distance from your home. While carpooling is a great way to save on bus or other transportation fares, you take the idea even further by offering to be the mom or dad who walks a bunch of kids to school. If you live in a neighborhood with lots of kids and are close enough to the school, it makes good sense and it will get kids up and exercising too. Perhaps your school is in a high crime area and students won’t ride their bikes for fear of them being stolen. If this is the case, help raise funds for a bike rack where students can secure their bikes for the day and know they’ll be safe.
Another great green idea that is easy to implement is recycling. If no one has yet spearheaded a recycling campaign at your child’s school, ask if you can get one started. Kids drink a lot of water in bottles. You can help get those bottles to the correct recycling station that can then recycle them into other products. Also, soda cans can be collected in the teachers’ break room. You can then recycle them or cash them in for the deposit and use it to fund the program or put it into another area that needs funds.
Everything you do can help your child’s school go greener. You may be the first to suggest an energy conservation or school beautification effort. Someone’s got to get the ball rolling, so it might as well be you.
There are many other ways you can help the greening effort at school. Send your child to school with a waste-free lunch bag. Use cloth napkins that she can bring home for you to wash and have her friends do the same. Other children will see and may also join in the effort. Encourage your child to use a reusable water bottle so that she’s not adding to the extra plastic in landfills.
Volunteer to go in and give talks in the individual classrooms on recycling and being eco-conscious. Many times teachers are doing a lesson on recycling and could really use a personal talk to bring the lessons alive. Join with some other moms and see if you can get a group together that goes around speaking to classrooms.
The effort that you put in may seem small, but you may be the driving force behind big change. Ask for a meeting with the principal where you present ideas about recycling and going greener. Not only will you be helping the school, you’ll be spreading the word about being environmentally conscious.
Consider the small and large ways you can help your child’s school go green. You’ll be helping your child’s generation, and also generations yet to come. You’ll be doing the whole community a service at the same time as well.
It’s not too late to get a program going even if it’s near the end of the school year. You can pick right back up in the fall where you left off and even continue over the summer by preserving your home grown vegetables to sell at back to school craft fairs and fundraisers. Think locally and small, but also think big. You can achieve big things with the smallest seed of a dream.