Kristin Richmond and Kirsten Tobey, the founders of Revolution Foods, a privately held company that creates nutritious and tasty breakfasts, lunches, and snacks for schools, were pleased when undercover blogger "Mrs. Q" recently shed light on the dismal choices found in most cafeterias. However, what Mrs. Q failed to offer, they point out, is solutions. Over the last five years, that is exactly what their business has been doing, school by school, student by student.
Revolution Foods began as a joint grad school project at the U.C. Berkeley School of Business. Tobey, a former schoolteacher, and Richmond, a Wall Street drop-out who started a school for kids with special needs in Nairobi, had idealistic goals: to provide healthy, delicious school lunches to kids with the greatest economic need-and to do so for less than $3 per meal (which is about what the government will reimburse schools for under their free and reduced-cost lunch program). From the beginning, critics said it couldn't be done: kids were "hooked on junk food" and fresh, wholesome food was too expensive. In September 2006, the fall after they graduated, Revolution Foods piloted a program in three schools in the Bay Area. Five years later, they are working with 600 schools across the country and serving over 100,000 meals per day.
One of the most challenging parts of the business is simply keeping up with demand. Educators want their pupils to be well nourished. Although more systematic research needs to be done, the Centers for Disease Control reports that healthy eating programs implemented by schools lessen preventable illness including obesity and can also improve children's cognitive function. The Journal of School Health reports that diet quality has a positive impact on academic performance. Richmond says, "Principals of schools who serve meals made by Revolution Foods have reported back that they have witnessed better focus, fewer disciplinary problems, less tardiness, and higher test scores."
Richmond and Tobey are moms themselves who understand first hand the challenges working parents face providing their kids with affordable, nutritious food on the go. But they have also faith that kids will make good choices if offered wholesome options that are actually tasty--which is why school breakfast and lunch programs are so important. The company is constantly getting feedback from the schools they serve in order to develop kid-friendly menus such as spaghetti marinara with all natural meatballs and chicken teriyaki with vegetables. All of their meals are prepared fresh daily with no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives, trans fats or high fructose corn syrup. They use hormone- and antibiotic-free meat and dairy products and source local and organic produce when possible. "It may take a few tries before a child likes butternut squash," Tobey says. "But suddenly it becomes their favorite vegetable and they are going home and asking their parents for it."
Revolution Foods easy tips for healthier kids:
- Start early: try not to expose kids to too much fat, sugar, or salt when they are at a young age. However Richmond says, "We are realistic. We don't force our kids to eat a certain vegetable and when they go to a party they eat the birthday cake."
- Use low-fat instead of whole milk.
- If you are going to drink a soda or lemonade, skip the refill, which would add an additional 200 calories and seven teaspoons of sugar.
- Been awhile since you skipped rope? Twenty-minutes of jump roping is a fun family activity and is the cardiovascular equivalent of an hour of aerobics.
- An easy afterschool snack that most kids love is a quesadilla made of a slice of cheese melted between two tortillas in a skillet. Slice like a mini-pizza for utensil free eating.
- Not every kid is going to love Brussels sprouts, but it can take a few tries for the taste buds to get used to and enjoy a new flavor. Don't give up on serving on a new, healthy food.
- Smart substitutions: When cooking with ground beef, substitute half ground turkey. Swap two egg whites for one whole egg or whole wheat pastry flour for white flour when baking. Cut mayo in half by adding an equivalent amount of naturally fat-free mustard.
- A small bag of granola mixed with dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, and unsweetened coconut is a sweet, high-energy, portable snack.
- Designate a family fitness night each week with one family member as the instructor who gets to lead an activity of their choice.
- The best snacks are mini meals that balance protein and carbohydrates. Some great combinations: crackers and cheese, fruit and nuts, yogurt and fruit, cold cereal and milk, hummus and baby carrots.
- If your mornings are rushed, find out if your school has a breakfast program or provide a quick, portable option such as a box of milk, piece of toast, and piece of fruit.