By: Bessie O'Connor, RDN
Improving nutrition security takes partnership! Dairy Council of California, together with partners in school foodservice, education, health care and agriculture, uses collective expertise to inspire healthy, successful communities. Let’s Eat Healthy, a Dairy Council of California initiative, elevates the value of partnerships and provides an overarching direction to facilitate local, regional and state level collaboration. We partner with a wide variety of organizations to support unique solutions to improve access to nutritious food and evidence-based nutrition education.
This year the California Department of Food and Agriculture has ramped up funding to support farm to school programs, providing an opportunity to improve nutrition security and connect students with California’s rich and diverse agriculture. As schools and partner organizations develop pathways to build nutrition and agricultural literacy, they can look to existing programs and partnerships as a guide.
San Luis Coastal Unified School District’s Food Service Department hosted its first ever culinary arts classes as part of the district’s 2022 summer experience. The program was free for all district students and included transportation and meals, which helped remove participation barriers. The culinary classes emphasized garden and culinary education through experiential learning, including an interactive lesson and tasting experience to build the connection between nutritious school food and local agriculture.
Through shared values, Let’s Eat Healthy partnered with the School Food Service Department to improve nutrition and agricultural literacy. The partnership helped students frame vegetables and fruits in the context of daily eating patterns using a variety of factors, including taste, tradition and nutrition. Partnering also supported students to learn dairy’s role in healthy eating patterns; MyPlate and the five food groups; ways to enhance nutrition and taste by pairing dairy with vegetables, fruits and whole grains; and dairy’s contribution to California agriculture. Since dairy, vegetables and fruits are under consumed foods in the United States, well-rounded farm to school education includes all of three.
Milk and dairy foods provide students with essential nutrients like calcium, vitamin D and potassium. In addition to these essential nutrients, milk is a whole food that provides health benefits beyond its individual nutrients. Dairy foods like milk, yogurt and cheese offer a unique and essential package of nutrients that work together to provide multiple health benefits, including optimal growth and development in children and reduced risk of developing chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes and heart disease later in life.1,2 The wide variety of milk and dairy foods available provides many options to meet personal needs, tastes and preferences. Overall, including nutrient-rich foods like dairy, vegetables and fruits through school meals and farm to school education can help establish healthy dietary patterns and improve lifelong health.
The Let’s Eat Healthy initiative welcomes the opportunity to collaborate, co-create and implement quality wellness strategies to create collective impact. It is our passion to work together and ensure access to nutritious food and nutrition education. Check out the Let’s Eat Healthy Framework and join the initiative to see how we can partner!
Bessie O'Connor, RDN
Bessie O'Connor, RDN
Bessie is a practicing Registered Dietitian Nutritionist and the Community Nutrition Adviser for California’s Central Coast region.
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