COMMENTARY: Nutrition education can be a game-changer for our youth – EdSource

Providing healthier meals in schools alone is not enough. Students need to learn about nutrition from an early age so they can make better food choices.

Growing up in Los Angeles, cooking at home with my mom had a big influence on me and started my lifelong love affair with food. My fondest memories include the school lunches my mom packed for us — a peanut butter sandwich on hearty sourdough bread — no jelly and no mushy white bread for the future chef and baker. There was always a piece of fruit, like an apple or an orange or sometimes celery or carrots. And of course, a homemade cookie, which sparked my interest in making better desserts.

Mom was the head dietitian for the Las Virgenes Unified School District where I attended school. She talked about how tight the state budgets were back in the 1990s into the early 2000s and worked hard at keeping sugar-loaded sodas out of schools and pushed to have salad bars.

It wasn’t until later in my culinary career that I began a deeper exploration into the correlation between nutrition and the impact it can have on overall health.

Today, there is a stronger general understanding of how the foods we put in our bodies impact our physical health. We know healthy eating is a key contributor to energy levels and social-emotional development. There is science behind being hangry. Still, studies have shown that over 40% of daily calories consumed by children ages 2-18 are empty, or lacking in any nutrition. Poor nutrition has a significant impact on a child’s ability to focus and can lower cognitive function, which is so important when it comes to learning in school, widening many of the equity gaps that exist particularly in our most underserved communities.

Further, every year, an alarming number of children are diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, obesity and other chronic health-related issues, most of which become lifelong battles. According to the CDC, more than 40% of fourth and seventh graders in our state are considered either overweight or obese. Research has conclusively shown that youth living in underresourced communities have 2.31 times greater odds of being affected by obesity than children living in higher-income homes and are likely to face greater health care challenges than their more affluent peers.

One way to address this gap in nutrition equity is through improved nutrition education in our schools.

How to find a credible, reputable non-profit nutrition education partner.