Episode 92: Katie Wilson, Executive Director of the Urban School Food Alliance
School meals are a vital part of creating an environment for students to succeed.
Dr. Katie Wilson, Executive Director of the Urban School Food Alliance, has a contagious passion for all things child nutrition and school food service. She and her team at the alliance pour countless hours and energy into making sure the children of some of the largest school districts in the world are receiving nutrient-dense, thoughtfully planned meals. They believe that “when students eat well, they do well in school.”
The Urban School Food Alliance was established in 2012 when the six largest school districts in the country came together with a mission to use their collective experience and sheer numbers to make an impact in the school nutrition arena.
“Schools are a gateway to changing the consumption habits surrounding fruits and vegetables in the United States.” – Lori Taylor (13:12-13:26)
The Urban School Food Alliance serves 3.6 million meals per day – 635 million meals annually – in 12 of the largest school districts in the United States. To give some perspective on just how big these districts are, each district must enroll at least 50,000 students annually to be eligible for the alliance!
The Alliance invests around $800 million in procurement each year, and $95 million of those dollars are spent investing in the local communities, providing locally sourced produce and grains to schools. They are dedicated to changing policy, and leveraging their influence to increase quality and lower cost because they believe wholeheartedly that nutritious school meals are a vital component to a child’s success in school and in life.
The districts in this alliance are passionate about making sure students have access to best quality food, and they have made phenomenal progress for the school nutrition industry. This is the organization that went after antibiotic-free chicken for school lunches. Their effort not only affected the meals our schools serve children each day, but you can thank them for the antibiotic-free chicken that is served in most fast food restaurants today.
The missing piece in our education programs
Schools are meant to educate children, and the school nutrition program is a piece of that education puzzle that is often missing.
There are so many opportunities within schools to introduce children to a wide variety of produce and encourage lifelong healthy eating habits.
Some schools in the Urban School Food Alliance have incorporated a “Produce of the Month” program. Local grocery stores in the area have even been included, so they can make sure to supply the produce item being highlighted. This is a fantastic opportunity for the child to have the opportunity to educate the family!
Some districts are also being intentional to incorporate new cultural food experiences in their school. Food has a powerful way of bringing people of all ethnicities and countries of origin together. Stories of children new to the country, finding comfort in a familiar meal that is shared with new classmates have shown the power of connection that is found when we introduce students to new experiences and educate them on the value of culture.
Make a difference in your child’s school
School lunches often get a bad wrap. You may fear your child won’t get a nutritious, quality meal from the cafeteria.
Here are a few things to consider.
- Investigate. There’s a great chance that there are more options available for your child than you are currently aware of. Often, schools have a fresh fruit and veggie bar available to students. Take the time to introduce yourself to the staff that is serving the children of your school each day. Do some investigating and don’t just believe everything you read.
- Participate. If you find that your school isn’t up to par with your expectations, it’s important to recognize that this program needs participation to be successful. When you simply withhold participation in the program, you’re contributing to the inability of the nutrition program to meet the needs of your child.
- You have the power as a parent to evoke change in your district! The local food program can only be as good as the local administration gives support for. Share your needs, and join with other parents who feel the same.
- Contact your legislature and let them know that school nutrition is important! Moves like this can increase funding and increase the value of the nutrition for your child’s school.
At The Produce Moms, we strongly believe that school meals are one of the best investments for the health and wellbeing of our children. The Urban School Food Alliance is leading the way in making incredible, positive changes in our school lunch programs around the nation.
How to get involved
- Join The Produce Moms Group on Facebook and continue the discussion every week!
- Reach out to us – we’d love to hear more about where you are in life and business! Find out more here.
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Previous episodes you may enjoy
- Episode 91: The Future of Farming with Dr. Jenna Bell, Vice President of Nutritional Science for Crop One
- Episode 90: Frozen Non-Dairy Indulgence with Julie Podolec, Founder and CMO of Modern Pop
- Episode 89: The Future of AG Technology with Vonnie Estes, Vice President of Marketing at the Produce Marketing Association
- Episode 88: How to Eliminate Plastic Waste in Your Kitchen with Andrea Watson, Founder and Chief Brand Ambassador of Nature Knows
- Episode 87: The Essential Nutrients Your Children are Missing with Jonathon Wolfson, Founder and CEO of Brainiac Kids