Nutrition in School

Staff Writer
The Destin Log

Monday marked the beginning of a new school year for Okaloosa and Walton counties. While little ones eagerly anticipated meeting their teachers, riding the bus, and digging into brand new back packs and school supplies, parents began bracing themselves for the fall routine. Earlier bedtimes, more structured activities, picking out school clothes the night before, and packing lunches. For many of us, the biggest dilemma we face when it comes to packing school lunches is should we pack a turkey or ham sandwich and do chocolate covered pretzels count as a healthy snack or as treat?

Unfortunately, for more than 15.9 million school aged children, the biggest challenge is knowing where they’ll get their next meal. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, one out of every 10 children is classified as “food insecure” meaning they are unable to consistently access nutritious and adequate amounts of food on a regular basis. Map The Meal Gap, a website maintained by the non-profit organization, Feeding America, identifies Okaloosa and Walton Counties with a food insecurity rate of 14.5 percent and 14.2 percent respectively. Furthermore, the 2014 Hunger In America Study, published this summer, indicates an emerging new trend. Families are more dependent upon food banks and supplemental food assistance programs than ever before. No longer a temporary, stop gap measure designed to meet acute hunger needs, food banks have become an important part of struggling families’ long term food survival strategies.

Without proper nutrition, kids are at a higher risk for illness and are more likely to have a decreased immune system, are more likely to suffer from arrested emotional and physical growth and development, and struggle at school. The emotional fall out of food insecurity can be seen in lower self-confidence, higher levels of anxiety, increased aggression, and slower development of age appropriate social skills.

For many kids, school breakfasts and lunches help supplement their nutritional needs. Free and reduced lunch programs ensure that during school, food insecure kids have at least two healthy and nutritious meals daily. But what happens after school, on weekends, and during breaks and vacations? In 2010, Tiffanie Shelton asked these very same questions, and with the help of some friends, began to provide six food insecure children with back packs full of food for the weekend. Now, with a cadre of dedicated volunteers, a secure work place, and an increased community awareness, Food For Thought is set to provide more than 60,000 meals in nine different schools during the 2014-15 school year.

There are plenty of ways for us to support this important mission. The easiest way is to donate on-line at www.foodforthoughtfl.org. A $50 donation supports five children for a month, and $125 supports one child for an entire year. If you’re an avid on-line shopper, you can register at Shop 2 Give, an online, aggregate retail site which donates portion of your sale to your selected charity. You can also stock the pantry, because Food For Thought is always in need of fresh fruit, bread, peanut butter, jelly, granola or cereal bars, crackers, applesauce, canned chicken or tuna, oatmeal and cereal. Pop tops are preferable and no glass jars will be accepted. You can get a full list of donation sites on the Food For Thought website.

Finally, you can celebrate the organization’s good work on Thursday, Sept. 18 at the Second Annual Art of Giving. Featuring the work of three dynamic local artists, the event pairs local food and beverages with the spirit of giving. You can attend the event (tickets are available on line) and bid for your favorites live, or participate virtually, beginning at noon, Aug. 22.  Food For Thought and art for the soul. Sounds like a winning combination to me.

Follow Susan Moody on Twitter @susanjmoody and visit her blog, The Emerald Coast Insider, at www.emeraldcoasttreasurebox.com.