ASPEN — School lunch and childhood obesity is a hot topic these days, with everyone from First Lady Michelle Obama and celebrity chef Jamie Oliver touting the need for change.
Here in the Roaring Fork Valley, change is already afoot thanks to the Children's Health Foundation (CHF). Through its Lunch for Life program, the Aspen-based nonprofit organization has affected the eating habits of some 75,000 schoolchildren across Colorado.
Locally, CHF has helped schools in the Aspen, Roaring Fork, Garfield and Montrose school districts revamp their lunch programs by analyzing what was being served, suggesting healthy alternatives, and providing a sort of “culinary boot camp” for kitchen staffs to learn how to cook from scratch and eliminate processed foods. “Our basic tenet is that you can make a change and you can make a difference,” said Mardell Burkholder, executive director of the Children's Health Foundation. “But you need the tools to do it. Oftentimes, those providing lunch for our children don't know what to do; they don't know how to cook healthy.
“They've been opening up boxes and just heating stuff up for so long they can't imagine another way of doing things.”
But there are plenty of other ways to serve up school lunch, and just as many reasons why it is important to make the change. Thursday at Paepcke Auditorium, Aspenites will get the chance to learn more at a CHF special event, “Appetite for Change.” The evening features a screening of the short documentary film “Lunch” and a presentation by school lunch expert Dr. James Hill.
“One of the things we decided to do this year is to educate people locally about who we are and the importance of changing school lunch programs,” explained Burkholder, noting that even in Aspen, where kids are generally healthy and active, there is room for improvement. “We see these kids who look really fit and athletic, but they're also eating fried foods and fast foods, and those will have an effect on their health — now and down the road.”
That fast-food culture is exactly what “Lunch” addresses: “As nationwide funding for school cafeterias rapidly decreases and high-calorie, low-nutrient meals have become order of the day, our nation's children are being afflicted by a slew of diet-based diseases from high-blood pressure and cholesterol to diabetes and obesity. In ‘Lunch,' a revealing documentary short, director Avis Richards investigates the causes and the consequences of ‘growing up in a junk-food culture,'” states the film's press materials.
“Lunch” gets its message across through interviews with food workers, doctors, educators and students. It also explores alternatives to the “hamburger hegemony,” talking with farmers and other community leaders about their efforts to put locally grown, whole foods back on school lunch menus.
The message will be further driven home in a presentation by Dr. James Hill following the film. Hill is a CHF board member and expert in children's nutrition and the school lunch issue. According to Burkholder, Hill “was focused on the importance of healthy school lunches long before it was the thing to do or to talk about.” “Our hope is that ‘Appetite for Change' will bring these issues to the forefront locally, and in turn, across the state,” said Burkholder. “Because the school lunch issue is one we cannot afford to ignore.”
“Appetite for Change” is at 6 p.m. at Paepcke Auditorium. The event includes a special screening of “LUNCH The Film,” followed by a presentation by Dr. James Hill, executive director of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center at the University of Colorado Denver. Light appetizers will be served. Admission is free, but donations are welcome. For more information, contact the Children’s Health Foundation at 920-4750 or visit www.childrenshealthfoundation.net.