School Lunch Leaders

As summer starts to wind down and the school year begins to get closer, the realities of school lunches creep closer as well. School lunches are a hot topic, and it’s not hard to see why. For many students, school lunch represents a big portion of the food they consume daily. In recent years, many new health initiatives have been put in place to create healthier and tastier options for students eating at school, but many school lunches are still far from perfect.

Girl carrying tray with healthy school lunch

Whether you’re a teacher, a parent, or a student, staring down the school lunch issue can be a daunting task, especially when many schools receive their food from national food corporations. It can be easy to simply accept that school lunch will always be unsatisfactory, but one group of students decided that enough was enough. 

Take Control of Your Lunch

One of the leaders of change in school lunch options have been The Rethinkers, a youth activist group in New Orleans. Many New Orleans students had to attend different schools in the months following Hurricane Katrina, and they found that many other schools had higher quality food and amenities than the schools they had attended in New Orleans. The students didn’t want to just sit idly by, and instead created “Kids Rethink Public Schools,” a student advocacy group formed to fight for public school reform.

Fruit stand selling fruit

The students were struck by the juxtaposition between the thriving and colorful food scene of the city they lived in and the food they were served to eat on a daily basis. They wanted healthier, tastier, and fresher local options served to them in their school cafeterias, and they had a plan to change things.

They created a survey containing questions about the quality of school lunches and delivered the survey to many different schools around their district. Using the data collected from these surveys, The Rethinkers were able to collect opinions from many different students and give each different school lunch program a grade. As can be expected, the first time the surveys were issued, the grades were abysmal. The Rethinkers were able to use their research to recommend various changes and take their recommendations to the people in charge. Eventually, in a press conference hosted by The Rethinkers themselves, both the school district and the national corporation that provided their lunches promised to provide fresh, local food to the students.

Follow in Their Steps

More than anything else, The Rethinkers proved that it is possible to fight for change in your community and win. Changing the quality of school lunches is a big challenge, but when many people stand up for what they want, big things can happen.

Here’s how you can “Rethink” the school lunches in your community:

  • Form a group
    • The Rethinkers began by forming groups of like-minded students who were passionate about changing the quality of the student experience in schools.
  • Start small
    • Their first request was simply that the school cafeteria get rid of sporks as the main eating utensil for students. This request solidified The Rethinkers as an organized group that had solid ideas for how to improve their learning environments. With this small victory under their belts, The Rethinkers were able to tackle the bigger issue of school lunches.
  • Have a plan
    • The Rethinkers knew that adults were more likely to listen if they were organized and eloquent with their suggestions. They collected data to back up their claims and then used the information they received to form their own recommendations and suggestions for moving forward.
  • Celebrate small victories
    • Change may not happen as quickly or as smoothly as you would like it to, so it is important to recognize and celebrate each step you take toward achieving your eventual goal. Big changes can’t happen overnight! 

If you’d like to learn more, The Rethinkers were featured in an HBO Documentary, where you can follow their cafeteria revamp and see how they were able to take control of their school lunch.(Documental en español)