You spend a lot of time at school, right? Like almost every weekday for nearly nine months out of the year? Yeah. That's a lot of hours, and a lot of meals and snacks. Most students eat lunch at school, and many eat breakfast there too, not to mention snacks between classes and after school before sports practice or other meetings. It's estimated that students eat 19 to 50 percent or more of their daily food at school.  That's definitely a lot of food! And that's why Catalyst is working to make sure that schools across Minnesota have healthy food options that actually look good to eat and are good for you - food that students actually want to eat instead of other less healthy options.
A majority of all schools, both public and private, participate in the National School Lunch Program, and nearly as many participate in the School Breakfast Program. All meals in both programs must meet nutrition standards as defined by the United States Department of Agriculture.  All other foods sold at school often called “competitive foods” because they compete with the regular school lunch for you to buy them! These include à la carte lines, vending machines, and food and drinks sold in school stores. These foods are not held to any federal standards, and policies vary from state to state, district to district and often even school to school about what can be sold.
We want to share some examples of what is going on in schools around the country. Our "neighbors" in Green Bay, Wisconsin's public schools are making a lot of cool changes. They've been replacing some of the "low-nutrient" (a.k.a. unhealthy) à la carte options with healthier options like fresh fruit and veggie trays, baked chips, and bagels. They've even created nutrition fact cards for all items served. These are posted on the serving line, so students can easily access this information while making food choices. And Green Bay has encouraging results on the sales front with overall revenues for school food service increasing after the changes!
A middle school in Ennis, Montana has even changed to healthier snacks in their vending machines, and students have pushed to make it happen. They contacted the school’s vending company about offering more nutritious options. "After discovering that some of the healthier snacks in the vending machines sold just as well as candy and chips, the company traded one of their candy machines for a “healthy choices” snack machine."  These are just a couple of examples – there’s a lot going on in schools across the country and you can check out some of the other key issues for more info on programs like “Farm to School” that encourage schools to use local and organic foods.
Now that you've heard some great examples of students getting involved to create positive change in their schools, it's time to figure out what you can do in yours! The truth is, sometimes students are involved (like these examples), and sometimes they aren't and schools just make these changes without student input. That's something Catalyst hopes to change. If you're going to eat the food, it makes sense that you get involved in helping to make the decisions about it, right? You know what you and your friends like to eat, and you probably have some opinions about the food offered at your school.
So, first things first, if you're interested in getting healthier foods into your school, let us know. Email us at SchoolFood@bethecatalyst.org , or give us a call at 651-270-6589. We would love to brainstorm with you and help you put together info to share with your food service staff, your principal, and your friends.
And in the meantime, if you want to learn more about changing food options at your school, check out these online resources:
When we talk about eating healthy, fruits and veggies are an obvious option. So, what makes these natural snacks so healthy? Why should we be eating more of them? What should we be eating every day - and what are some fun, tasty, and easy recipes to get us started? These are all important questions, and Catalyst can help you get started on answering them. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)put out the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans," which basically recommends what kind of food and how much of it we should be eating to stay healthy. The Dietary Guidelines recommend eating two cups of fruit and two and a half cups of veggies every day - fruits and veggies are what they recommend eating the most of.  That's about nine servings of fruits and veggies, and it's based on an average 2,000 calorie diet. 
There's almost too much to cover on fruits and veggies and why they are so nutritious. There are a ton of different nutrients in fruits and vegetables, and we'll talk about a lot of them. But first, there's an easy trick to making sure you are getting all of the different nutrients you need - eating lots of different colors of fruits and veggies. In general, eating a variety of colors of vegetables means you are getting a variety of nutrients.  And why is this so important? Well, and milk products are likely to have important health benefits.  And that's always a good thing!
So, what nutrients are we talking about, and where exactly can you find them? How about calcium, fiber, folate, iron, magnesium, potassium, and more! This list is just the beginning. For more examples of which fruits and veggies are great sources of the nutrients listed below, check out www.fruitsandveggiesmorematters.org.  Here’s a quick look at some of the many nutrients you can find every day in fruits and veggies:
First off, you can make a point to start eating more fruits and veggies. And we've got some suggestions on some fun fruit and veggies recipes in case you want to try out something more exciting than biting into an apple or chomping on some baby carrots. The "Fruits and Veggies: More Matters" website has all kinds of recipes that incorporate these healthy ingredients. Check it out here!
The HHS and USDA Dietary Guidelines are behind the food pyramid. You know, that triangle shaped graphic with all the foods stacked up inside it? We no it's divides into sections that represent the basic food groups, including fruits and vegetables. You can check out www.MyPyramid.gov to personalize your food pyramid and find out exactly how much fruits and veggies you should be eating every day based on things like your age, gender, and how physically active you are.
Check out our School Food Policy key issue for more suggestions on how to talk with your school about getting more fruits and veggies in your cafeteria.
In addition to the link to recipes above, check out all the info about fruit and veggies on www.EveryHelpingHelps.com. Every Helping Helps links to a ton of great info on why to eat more fruits and veggies, including fun TV, billboard, and bus ads that are running all across the state.
This is really just a start. There is endless info out there about nutrition and healthy eating, so we're just going to pull out a few important tips to help you start thinking about what nutrition is all about, and why healthy eating is so important. We all need food to live and grow, and it's helpful to know what our bodies need to be healthy. So this overview will help you get a feel for what your body needs, where you can get it by eating and drinking the right mix of foods and beverages each day. Hopefully this info will help you start to think about making healthy choices, and how you can help your school offer healthy options every day. Making healthy choices isn't about counting calories, dieting, or worrying about the way you look. It's about getting your body the balance of vitamins and minerals it needs to stay active and healthy. And at Catalyst it's about having fun, enjoying healthy food, and taking action to make sure you and your friends have healthy options to choose from!
Here are some helpful tips to get started. Always remember to make smart choices from every food group, find your balance between food and physical activity, and get the most nutrition out of what you eat.  Remember the food pyramid from health class? You can go to www.MyPyramid.gov to create your own personal food pyramid. It's a good first step in figuring out what your body needs each day to stay healthy. Once you know your personal pyramid, you can start to make choices within each food group. Here are some tips to think about as you make your choices - a healthy eating plan is one that:
And stay hydrated, make sure you are drinking enough water every day too! There is no magic amount of water that you need to drink every day - it depends on your body and your activity level. Some simple reminders: it's important to drink when you are thirsty, and when it's warm out, or you're exercising.  The Institute of Medicine advises that men consume roughly 3 liters (about 13 cups) of total beverages a day and women consume 2.2 liters (about 9 cups) of total beverages a day. 
So why is nutrition particularly important for high school students? You grow a lot during your teen years, and your body needs the right nutrients - vitamins, minerals, all that good stuff - to support that growth. Unfortunately, a lot of us aren't getting the nutrients we need. Only 21.4% of high school students are actually eating fruits and veggies five or more times a day.  Even worse - 29 percent of guys and 30 percent of girls age 12-19 are eating less than one serving of veggies a day, and 62 percent of guys and 57 percent of girls are consuming less than one serving of fruit a day!  And it's not just fruits and veggies - 85 percent of adolescent girls don't get enough calcium.  These are just a few of the reasons Catalyst is excited to take action on healthy eating and nutrition - there's a lot of work to do, and you can help!
Talk about nutrition with your friends and family. Nutrition is a new conversation for Catalyst, and it's probably a new conversation for a lot of people. All the info here in Nutrition 101, and in "The Facts" section on the website is all interesting stuff, and good conversation starters if you want to find out what your friends and family think about nutrition and healthy eating.
And don't forget to check out the School Food Policy key issue to learn more about how to work with your school to get more healthy options into your cafeteria and vending machines. Most students eat lunch at school, and many eat breakfast there too, not to mention snacks between classes and after school before sports practice or other meetings. It's estimated that students eat 19 to 50 percent or more of their daily food at school.  So, getting healthy options into your school is a BIG thing you can do to support healthy eating!
You may have seen us mention Farm to School programs and local food in the school food policy overview. We wanted to talk about it in more detail, because there's a lot of cool stuff going on across the country and right here in Minnesota focusing on local food. So, what do we mean by "local" and what's all the buzz about?
So local food means food that is produced close to where you are (as close as possible - which will depend from product to product). So that could be right there in your town, or county, or maybe neighboring counties. It could mean your school ordering apples from an orchard in Minnesota rather than an orchard in Washington. Or ordering veggies from a farm in the next town over instead of three states over.
Local food is good for a lot of reasons - first, if the food is close, it doesn't cost as much to ship it or drive it over. And local food helps local farmers, and its an opportunity to build partnerships with farms and businesses in your community, county, or state. And it's always nice to know where your food is coming from, right?
So, where can you find out more about local food in Minnesota? There's a non-profit called Local Harvest that has a cool mapping tool on their home page. They've mapped the entire country, pointing out where you can find farmers' markets, family farms, and other sources of sustainably grown food in your area. You can check it out at www.localharvest.org. According to Local Harvest, "most produce in the US is picked 4 to 7 days before being placed on supermarket shelves, and is shipped for an average of 1500 miles before being sold. And this is when taking into account only US grown products! Those distances are substantially longer when we take into consideration produce imported from Mexico, Asia, Canada, South America, and other places."  So, not only is food less fresh after it is shipped long distances to get to you, it's also more expensive because of all of the fuel and labor it takes to ship everything.
There are a lot of organizations right here in MN doing great work to support local food. The Minnesota Institute for Sustainable Agriculture has a "Local Food Guide" available for free on their website. And the Land Stewardship Project has a lot of good info too - including recipes that use local ingredients.
How can you get more local foods into your schools? It's known as "Farm to School" and there are schools across MN that are already doing it! Farm to School basically means that your school food service is incorporating local foods into the menu at school. Forty states have farm to school programs, and its estimated that there are more than 2,000 farm to school programs involving more than 8,700 schools across the country! The resources section at www.farmtoschool.org has all kinds of great info to help you and your school figure out how to start your own farm to school effort.
Willmar, Minnesota is the perfect example of Farm to School at work in MN. They incorporate a featured local ingredient each month, and they serve it in five schools across the district. Students are involved in "taste tests" to help the food service and nutrition staff to determine which foods and specific recipes they prefer. The most popular items make it onto the menu, and some of the elementary and middle schools even feature nutrition presentations about the featured food and where it comes from. Sometimes the local farmers are even involved. Some of the local foods have included apples, wheat flour for baked goods, cheese, wild rice, and bison hot dogs - students even had a chance to take a field trip to the local bison farm as part of the program!
Check out the "Local and Organic Foods" and "School Food Policy" presentations from the Catalyst Mini-Summit. They are a god starting point if you are interested in learning more about how Catalyst can help you connect with the right people in your school to start talking about getting local food into your cafeteria.
More about Willmar! You can check out some local news coverage with this story and video, and you can share the Willmar Farm to School tool-kit with your food service staff - it has all the info on how Willmar developed their program, and more details about the local foods Willmar used - including lots of recipes!
The National Farm to School Network features 136 examples of farm to school programs across the country, including Willmar, St. Paul, Morris, Winona and more. They also have a lot of great background info on the Farm to School movement. You can take a look at www.farmtoschool.org.
Almost every food and drink in your local grocery or convenience store has nutritional info on the side of the package, and it's east to find the nutrition info online for foods that don't come in a package, like all the fruits and veggies in the produce section. Nutritional info is posted on these products because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration requires that all prepared foods post nutritional info on their packages. However in most states and cities foods prepared in restaurants are not required to post nutritional info. Some states and cities are starting to change this, passing laws that require restaurants to post nutritional info on their menus, so that customers are fully informed about what they are eating, and can make their choices with all the facts.
More than twenty states and localities are considering policies that would require fast-food and other chain restaurants to provide calories and other nutrition information on menus and menu boards—four have already passed policies.  San Francisco, Philadelphia, and New York City all require nutritional info to be posted on menus, and California is the first state to pass a menu labeling policy.  But still, Half of large chain restaurants across the country do not provide any nutrition information to their customers, even though 78 percent of Americans support menu labeling! 
Why is menu labeling so important? The average American eats out four meals a week - consuming on average one third of their weekly calories from eating out.  That's a big chunk of what we're eating every week! When we eat out, we also eat more saturated fat and fewer nutrients, such as calcium and fiber, than at home. And studies link eating out with obesity and higher caloric intakes. For example, children eat almost twice as many calories when they eat a meal at a restaurant compared to a meal at home.  Want some specific examples? 
We're not telling you this so you start counting calories - that's not what this is all about. We just think it makes an important point. We should have the right to know what's in the food we eat, whether it's listed on the box of cereal or gallon of milk we pick up at the grocery store, or whether it's listed on the menu we read when we go out to eat. We can't make informed and healthy choices about the food we eat if we don't have all the info, right?
We're not the only ones that think this is a good idea. The National Academies’ Institute of Medicine recommends that restaurant chains “provide calorie content and other key nutrition information on menus and packaging that is prominently visible at point of choice and use.” The Food and Drug Administration, Surgeon General, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Cancer Institute, and American Medical Association also recommend providing nutrition information at restaurants.  Sounds like Catalyst is on the right track!
There's definitely a buzz around Minnesota on this issue, and some interest in making menu labeling happen in Minneapolis. We'll post the latest news here, or check in with us at MenuLabels@bethecatalyst.org if you are interested in connecting with others working on this issue.
For more info on menu labeling in general, and to read more about cities and states that are already doing it, be sure to check out the Center for Science in the Public Interest. They have a bunch of helpful fact sheets, research, and links to news stories about menu labeling around the country.
Here's some of the latest news to get you started:
Everyone should have access to healthy food right? It's easy enough to find fruits and veggies, whole grains, and other healthy stuff at the supermarket, isn't it? Well, what happens if you don't have any supermarkets in your neighborhood? Or even within miles of your neighborhood? Then you might live in what's called a "food desert." Never heard of a food desert before? We hadn't either, until we started thinking about how different communities have more options for grocery shopping than others. Some neighborhoods have a Rainbow and a Cub Foods across from each other. Or a Lunds, a Kowalski's, and a local food co-op within blocks of each other. And other neighborhoods don't have any supermarkets, or even smaller grocery stores, at all - just corner stores with limited options, and little to no fresh fruits, vegetables, and other unprocessed food. These areas are known as food deserts, since there's little to no healthy food options, just like there's little to no water in an actual desert.
There's a lot of research out there looking at how access to healthy food is connected with having a healthier diet overall, and how this can lead to reduced risk for obesity. It makes sense that you might have a hard time eating healthy if you don't have access to healthy food, right? Grocery stores and supermarkets usually have more variety and healthy options than convenience stores, since convenience stores usually have prepared, high calorie foods and little (if any) fresh fruits and veggies.  And you end up paying more for "convenience" so you can usually find more for your money at supermarkets. If you don't have supermarkets in your neighborhood, then finding healthy food becomes more of a challenge. Studies show that people who have better access to supermarkets tend to have healthier diets, and some have even found that greater access to supermarkets and limited access to convenience stores may reduce the risk for obesity. 
Another thing to think about is that this problem isn't just about whether you have a supermarket in your neighborhood. It's also about inequality and social justice. The fact that some people have access to supermarkets and some people don't is an inequality. And studies across the country have identified inequalities in access to food stores according to income, race, ethnicity, and urbanization.  Rural areas, low-income, and minority neighborhoods are most affected by this lack of access to food stores. 
And it's not just access to supermarkets and other food stores that isn't equal, it's access to healthy foods at restaurants too. We know fast food has a reputation for being particularly unhealthy - with lots of high-calorie low nutritional value items, and not many healthy options. It's pretty interesting to look at access to fast food, and where fast food restaurants are really concentrated. In Chicago, a study found that there were three to four times as many fast-food restaurants within 1.5 kilometers (less than a mile!) of schools than if the fast-food restaurants were distributed evenly across the city - and in East Los Angeles 42 percent of fast food restaurants are within walking distance (only .3 miles!) of a school.  Nationwide 37 percent of all high schools are within walking distance of at least one fast-food restaurant!
And what about inequality of access based on income and race, like we talked about with supermarkets? Studies are finding similar results. A study covering 28,050 zip codes found that within urban areas, low- and middle- income neighborhoods have a higher proportion of total restaurants categorized as fast-food restaurants compared with high income neighborhoods.  And looking at urban areas, predominantly black neighborhoods have a higher proportion of total restaurants categorized as fast-food restaurants compared with predominantly white neighborhoods. 
There's a lot going on right here in Minnesota around food access, and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, a national non-profit based in Minneapolis, is a leader on this issue. Their website is www.IATP.org, and they are doing all kinds of cool stuff, like helping set up small farmers markets in neighborhoods across Minneapolis that don't have good access to supermarkets and fresh fruits and veggies.
The Center for Food and Justice has Project CAFE (Community Action on Food Environments) that looks at food access in Los Angeles. Community members, including students are taking the lead on this project. You can find out more here.
And Catalyst is starting to work on this issue with some of our partners that live and work in areas of the Twin Cities that are considered food deserts. We're just starting to connect with high schools in these areas, and are talking with students and listening to their ideas for taking action to improve access to healthy food in their neighborhoods and communities. If you feel like there isn't enough healthy food in your community, or you're just interested in taking action to change this in communities across Minnesota, contact us at FoodAccess@bethecatalyst.org and can help you connect to others working on this issue.