Hi. My name is Rico Griffone. I am a graduate of The Culinary Institute of America (2006), a professional chef, and a father. I have always had a vested interest in how my son perceives and interprets the foods that we provide for him. As a family, it is our goal to offer him nutritious foods, introduce new and unusual ingredients, and explain the importance of why we eat the foods we do. He has been very amenable to this practice since we started it when he was very young. Not only do I feel good about what we feed him, but also about his understanding the why’s and how’s behind those choices. As he approaches the age to start school, my wife and I have discussed how that next stage might affect his mealtimes. Of course, I proudly asserted that I’d be the one creating lunches for him every day. Nevertheless, this discussion brought us to the subject of school meals and the choices that families must make – choices that go beyond the decision to buy school lunch versus packing a lunch, but also how families think about food and healthy choices within their homes. In 2009, I was lucky to become professionally involved in exploring these choices and trying to make sense of how families and school districts reach decisions when it comes to their children’s health and wellness.
I now work as a consultant for The Culinary Institute of America’s “Menu for Healthy Kids” program, one of the CIA’s initiatives that support the college’s commitment to advancing healthier food choices. As our specific aim, Menus for Healthy Kids has been working toward reducing childhood obesity and the incidence of Type II diabetes.
For the past three years, we have been working with school districts in Dutchess County, New York, to promote healthier habits for our children. This includes not only school lunches, which have made significant strides toward improving their nutritional standards, but also the choices kids (and their parents and guardians) make at home, at the market, and when they go out to eat.
It is only natural that the CIA would concentrate on promoting fresh, flavorful, healthful choices when shopping or cooking; food is, after all, our primary focus as college. In fact, the college’s slogan is this: Food is Life. It is true for all of us, whether we are culinary professionals, parents, or kids.
But, we recognize that making better, more healthful choices is only one piece of the puzzle. Activity plays a key role in improving the health and well-being of our youth. A practical education focused on food ingredients--what they are, how they are produced, how they can benefit (or harm) us--and the basics of good cooking is a priority if new, healthy habits are to last through a lifetime. We know that a successful approach will have to integrate all of these components.
I have begun this blog to showcase the important issues and opportunities related to securing a healthier future for our children. I’ll be writing about current news stories that focus on the foods served and marketed to our children in schools and restaurants, as well as at home. I’ll take a closer look at government policies that regulate what we consume and the messages that we are being sent about health, nutrition, and physical activity. I’ll share information about the programs and activities that we are participating in, whether a guest chef visit to a local school or a booth at a wellness expo. I will highlight the school systems, restaurants, and food manufacturers that are doing their part to promote natural and healthful practices. From time to time, I will have guest bloggers to enlighten us on topics within their areas of expertise.
After visiting several schools throughout the county and speaking with foodservice directors, school administrators, students, parents, and teachers, I’ve learned one thing with crystal clarity: There are no simple solutions and there is no silver bullet that will work in every school or in every situation. In practical terms, that means we need to develop multiple strategies that take aim at a variety of contributing factors if we want to see meaningful, sustainable changes to the rising tide of obesity and diabetes in this country and around the world.
I’ve also learned that there is no point in waiting for that simple solution. We need to start now. If we work consistently and cooperatively, as part of a community, we can come together to make positive changes to the health and well-being of our children. Building healthy habits and behaviors now makes it far more likely that those same habits and behaviors will follow our children into adulthood.
Please join me as I explore the topics that surround the issue of childhood obesity prevention. I look forward to hearing from you. Your comments and feedback are an important component and will turn this from a one-way rant into a lively dialog about ways that we can work together to turn around this national predicament. The more discussion we generate, the wider our perspective will be when it comes to finding ways that we can best serve our youth.