By DOROTHY BRAYLEY
With the school year now in full swing, I am pleased to say that Rhode Island schools are working harder than ever to offer healthier and more Rhode Island-grown foods to their students and staff. The vast majority of schools are now compliant with the ’06 and ’07 Healthier Foods and Beverages in Schools laws. We no longer should see sweetened beverages or high sugar, high fat, high sodium junk food dispensed from vending machines, sold in school stores, sold in the cafeteria on a la carte lines, or available through other fundraisers during the school day. This is a wonderful improvement for the health of our children! RI Nutrition Regulations, (effective Sept. ’09) are being implemented everywhere as well. In our school cafeterias at meal time, you will see lots more fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains and Rhode Island-grown and produced foods. Children here are learning about real food, whole food and where food comes from and I am proud of our collective efforts across the state. For this school year, everyone should expect to see (and ask for) more scratch cooking and less processed foods being served in schools. I predict that the chicken nugget and the chicken patty for school lunch will be offered less and less this year. These “mystery meats” will be replaced with more Asian stir fries, freshly made calzones, vegetable paninis, legume dishes like mac & peez (made with chick peas), fruit and yogurt parfaits, hummus and other dips and spreads, and salad and veggie bars. Please continue to demand whole food, real food and tasty food in our school cafeterias. Promoting better school food is important because we are seeing some communities with upwards of 50 percent overweight and obese children. We MUST keep working to improve nutrition for children in school as well as in their community. Lately we’ve seen school wellness advocates call upon their local hospitals, child care centers, work sites and corner stores to join the schools in their efforts to improve the nutrition within their environments for all. Schools need to have nutrition support from their wider communities. I’m proud to announce that Kids First is launching a new project, Real Food First, to help hospitals and work sites do the hard work that our schools have done: make their food environments more nutritious. If you know of a hospital or work site that needs food transformation help, visit Real Food First at www.realfoodfirst.org  and contact us. Every community institution should be working toward healthier eating just as our schools have done. Thanks to all of our schools for doing this great, important and generative work. I challenge all of our hospitals and work sites to do the same.
Dorothy Brayley is the executive director of Kids First & Real Food First.