It seems like a no-brainer: Just feed our kids healthy lunches and get back to the business of educating them, right?

Not so fast. Wander into your average U.S. school cafeteria, equipped with nothing but an industrial deep fryer and a shipping container’s worth of Tater Tots, and even the most salmon-oil -slurping, flaxseed-crunching health-food fanatic might be tempted to run screaming in the other direction.

If you’re brave enough to approach the stoic lunch lady (with a 50-pound bag of sloppy joe filling slung over one shoulder) to talk about starting a salad bar, chances are you’ve barely scratched the surface of the Sisyphean task ahead.

Being a lone school lunch revolutionary isn’t for the faint-hearted.

But now there is help. Here are three paths to making over your school’s cafeteria with the support of bona fide food fighters. Each of these organizations approaches the problem from a different angle, but all offer assistance to the parents, school administrators, and cooks who want to shift school lunches away from mystery meat to nourishing, delicious meals:

  • The Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine launched the Healthy School Lunch Campaign to advocate for improved school lunches and to provide step-by-step instructions on how a fledging food warrior might broach the topic with the principal. Unlike many other organizations, the good doctors don’t assume you already know the battleground: They offer a simple history of the National School Lunch Program and first steps for curing this nationwide problem. The campaign’s school lunch report cards grade school districts on their cafeteria food and health-education efforts. This is a great place to start your action today!
  • Farm to School programs connect farms with nearby schools — with the twin goals of producing healthier school lunches with more fresh produce and supporting local farmers. These programs exist in all but five states and involve more than 2,000 districts nationwide. The website farmtoschool.org has information on some of these programs and offers the greenhorn activist plenty of resources for building a strategic plan. There are listings for available grants, free resource packs, and regional offices that can help you take the first steps to get locally grown fruits and vegetables onto your school’s cafeteria trays.
  • The Lunch Box — a website started by Ann Cooper, aka the Renegade Lunch Lady of the Berkeley Unified School District, and funded by Whole Foods Market — provides an online toolbox for changing school lunches one district at a time. The healthy recipes are both scalable and priced, and the technical tools are designed to help administrators manage and evaluate a new food system. The educational resources — including videos, community forums, relevant studies on nutrition, and clickable maps — invite a national conversation on reforming school lunches. If you’re serious about converting your school to a better way of feeding its students, the Lunch Box gives you the tools to build your argument and the resources for cafeterias to ditch the junk food.

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