JoAnne Hammermaster is a Mom on a Mission®!
April 22, 2013
JoAnne Hammermaster is Healthy Child Healthy World’s April 2013 finalist for our Mom on a Mission® award. Read her first-person story below on how she became an advocate for children’s health.
By JoAnne Hammermaster, President of Real Food For Kids and April 2013 Mom on a Mission® Finalist
When I was approached in the fall of 2010 to take a look at the school lunch program at my children’s school, I was really unsure of what to expect. As an avid (amateur!) endurance athlete with a strong interest in nutrition, I couldn’t resist. I was very surprised at what I found. My kids personally chose to bring their lunches from home, so I had a lot of information to absorb. We pulled together a group of parents at the school with a similar interest and decided to make some changes. We soon realized that it was impossible to make changes to our school when it is a part of a larger school district. We decided it was worth the effort with parents from our school and others to take our cause to the county. Real Food For Kids was born!
I live in Fairfax County, Virginia. It is the 11th largest school district in the county with nearly 182,000 kids in 196 schools. Making any kind of change in such a large system is a daunting task. To take on the financial, operational, and nutritional complexities and challenges regarding school food was a different matter.
The quality of the school food that we feed our children today cannot be ignored. The trends in obesity, diabetes, and numerous other health issues are staggering. We must reverse the trend for the future of our children. With children in school for nearly seven hours a day, the school system has a unique opportunity to promote a healthy environment through the food offered to students. We are inspired by the need of children that count on school food to provide them with 60 to 100 percent of their daily sustenance. We want children to have the best opportunity to be academically and emotionally successful, and a healthy diet is a big piece of the puzzle. We must help in the process of teaching kids about making healthy choices, and then have those choices available.
The USDA recently released the Healthy, Hunger-free Kids Act of 2010. These are the first significant changes in over 15 years. However, these changes do not go far enough, as kids can still be served highly processed foods. I jumped into this cause after I saw the ingredients on one item from the lunch menu: a cheese quesadilla with 76 ingredients! If school systems can still offer items like this, then we must come together with parents, teachers, students, administrators, and community leaders to make a difference.
We have made significant progress in the last 2 ½ years, but it will still take several more years to reach our goal of providing more fresh, whole foods free of artificial additives, preservatives, and dyes in the schools. We congratulate our school system for removing more than 80 percent of the harmful ingredients over the past year. We continue to organize our large-scale events for the public with community awareness and education. Now we look forward to the launching of a pilot kitchen in a high school that will serve fresh foods. As all of our kitchens are “heat and serve” kitchens, this is a tremendous step in the right direction. Our school food program is in the midst of an independent assessment that will lead us with an implementation plan that furthers our objectives.
I love to receive calls from parents from other parts of the country who want to start a similar initiative. We need to collaborate and work together, as the process is complicated. One of the things I have learned: Changing school food is very complex and will take a long time. But just because something is hard doesn’t mean we don’t do it. It just means that we have to try harder. One of the most important things I have appreciated about this process is the wonderful support of parents who have come together to work on this cause. We work tirelessly to keep moving forward in a positive direction. I wouldn’t have been able to work on this initiative without their support!
Know an amazing mom who is making a difference? Nominate her to be one of our Mom on a Mission® finalists! Learn more about Healthy Child Healthy World’s 2013 Mom on a Mission® campaign by visiting Healthychild.org/mission. A special thank you to our sponsors Ology and Unreal.