Sustainable Food Focus Added to Eco-Schools USA Program

New pathway would encourage K-12 schools to change food practices and teach about impacts

06-21-2012 // Max Greenberg

Vicki Sando

Talk about ‘pink slime’ and whether pizza is a vegetable underscores an unmistakable trend: Americans are thinking long and hard about whether the food their kids get at school is healthy and well-sourced.

To that end, the Obama administration announced changes to government-subsidized school meals in January, adding more fruits and green vegetables to breakfasts and lunches among other changes. It was significant, but just one in a long list of necessary reforms--not the least of which is an increased emphasis on teaching kids about where their food comes from, where it is going and how it impacts the world around them.

Change in the Cafeteria and the Classroom

National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program, which recognizes schools that have distinguished themselves by an extraordinary commitment to sustainability, conservation and environmental education, has launched a new ‘Sustainable Food’ pathway to encourage K-12 schools to establish programs that “provide healthy meals in school cafeterias, improve student nutrition, offer curricular connections on topics related to health, nutrition and food, and connect schools to their local communities and farms.”

Like other Eco-Schools USA pathways, Sustainable Food would use the results of a school’s Environmental Audit to set target areas for improvement. Once measurable progress is made (and documented) on integrating sustainable food into the curriculum and school environment, it would count toward a school’s future Bronze-, Silver- or Green Flag-level award.

Program Objectives:

  • To raise awareness about the importance of health, nutrition, and food education
  • To understand the environmental impact of food miles.
  • To investigate links between the foods we eat and how we perform and behave.
  • To investigate the issues associated with different food choices (local vs. non-local, organic vs. conventional, whole vs. processed).
  • To understand the benefits of composting food waste rather than throwing it away.
  • To establish diverse opportunities that will enable departments, clubs, and individuals to achieve their goals while incorporating school food projects.
  • To establish partnerships with local, state, and national health, nutrition, and food experts and organizations, such as local food nutritionists, the First Lady’s “Let’s Move” campaign, the USDA’s Farm to School program, and Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, all of which can help schools achieve their Sustainable Food pathway goals.

Learning Outcomes:

Through work with the Sustainable Food pathway, students will:

  • Discuss the importance of health and nutrition and discover the impacts food can have on the body.
  • Monitor their food choices, making healthier, smarter food decisions.
  • Create awareness campaigns about the importance of sustainable food, with a focus on 1) the health of students, staff and families and 2) the impacts of food choices on our community and environment.
  • Carry out audits related to health, nutrition, and food.Suggest ways to make healthy and sustainable food a priority at both school and home.

The Eco-Schools USA program recognizes schools for exceptional achievement in ‘greening’ the facilities, grounds, conserving natural resources and integrating environmental education into the curricula and student experience. Over 1,200 schools have implemented the Eco-Schools USA program since NWF became the host of the international program in late 2008.

The Eco-Schools program was started in 1994 by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE) with support by the European Commission. It was identified by the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) as a model initiative for Education for Sustainable Development in 2003. It strives to model environmentally sound practices, provide support for greening the curriculum and enhance science and academic achievement.

Related Resources
  • How to Become an Eco-School

    Through school-based action teams of students, administrators, educators and community volunteers, Eco-Schools combines effective "green" management of the school grounds, facilities and the curriculum.

  • The Eight Eco-Schools Pathways

    The Eco-Schools USA program is made up of seven steps, incorporating eight environmental pathways.

  • Current Eco-Schools  

    Check the map to see if your schools are Eco-Schools.