The lack of fresh, healthy foods and exercise has a negative effect on children's ability to learn in school, according to presenters at a healthy foods forum last week.
Children who experience hunger are more likely to exhibit issues like hyperactivity, absenteeism and behavioral problems, and obese children often have lower test scores than their peers, according to speaker Cody Belzley, vice president for health initiatives at Colorado Children's Campaign.
Roughly 17 percent of all Colorado kids lived in poverty in 2010, up from 9.7 percent in 2000, Belzley said.
The Thursday forum was hosted by the local branch of It's About Kids, a grassroots piece of the Colorado Children's Campaign - a nonpartisan, nonprofit research and advocacy organization focused on improving the quality of and expanding access to child health, K-12 education and early childhood experiences.
Healthy food does affect education, "I think without question," said Joel Hauswirth, food services director at Summit School District. "There's no way to dispute the connection between eating healthy and learning."
Hauswirth was there to talk about U.S. Department of Agriculture's new nutritional guidelines for school lunches, which were put in place at the beginning of this school. Now, there's greater restrictions on a daily and weekly basis, particularly on grains. At least half of the grains offered on a weekly basis must be "whole-grain rich," meaning that kids are seeing more whole-grain pasta and other similar offerings, instead of foods previously prepared with white flour.
Besides grains, there are four other groups offered at lunch: Meat or protein alternative, veggies, fruit and milk. Students must have three of those five points on their plates, and if they didn't grab a fruit or vegetable, they have to go back and get one of those, too.
So far, Hauswirth is getting positive reactions from parents, and some children; an unbreaded roasted chicken with rice pilaf was a big hit recently. But it is hard to get students to try new and different things, Hauswirth said - some children just aren't used to the texture of whole grains.
The transition for Summit was made easier because of its long-standing history with fruit and veggie bars inside the cafeteria, so the children were already used to that aspect, Hauswirth said.
This year's changes are only the first of 10 years. Next year, there will be modifications for breakfast, and down the line, more restrictions on calorie counts and sodium.
In her Cooking Matters class - a cooking and nutrition class offered by the Family and Intercultural Resource Center - naturopathic doctor Jannine Walldan encourages parents to get their kids involved. If you cook with kids, they're more interested in what they're eating, she said. She encourages parents to try something different - like shredded cabbage in tacos, as opposed to lettuce.
Walldan also tells parents to turn the act of making dinner into a party. Move around and dance while cooking, she said, and get the kids to join in. It's all about "getting kids motivated to come into the kitchen, but allowing them to go play a little bit."