AGC’s commitment to healthy, sustainable food is central to our model and to our students’ success at AGC and beyond.
Food is a community health issue. Children require proper nutrition for optimal growth and development. Eating habits that begin in childhood play a key role in lifelong health issues like cholesterol, blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes, and can impact many other chronic diseases.
Food is a social justice issue. Nutrition-related diseases disproportionately impact low-income and minority communities, and one in four Chicago Public Schools students are obese.
Food is an academic issue. Nutrition impacts socio-emotional and academic functioning. It is well documented that hunger has a strong negative impact on classroom behavior and academic success. Additionally, major studies have shown that the quality of a student’s diet has a major impact on academic performance even after controlling for socioeconomic factors.
Unfortunately, most young people are not following healthy dietary guidelines. Schools can send conflicting if not detrimental messages when they promote unhealthy food in their cafeterias, vending machines, bake sales, and as rewards for classroom success.
As we were creating this unique school, knew that we wanted to develop a schoolwide culture that supported our mission and vision surrounding healthy food.
But how do we define healthy food in a way that makes sense to students, is accessible to students, and matches ever-evolving research and medical perspectives? How do we get our teachers and families on board? How do we ask an entire community to change the way they eat? How do we honor important cultural food norms? How do we ensure that no one feels ashamed? How can we meet our students and families where they are and inspire them to grow?
We knew that it was important that our staff and parents model healthy choices for our students. We knew we wanted to help our students develop a healthy relationship with food and an appreciation for healthy food. We knew that we needed to create a schoolwide wellness policy that included nutrition guidelines.
Like most things at AGC, our food policy grew organically, over many conversations with different stakeholders. Our policy was a living breathing thing. It began as a sensible “stoplight” based on nationally accepted best practices. Over the years, specific items would appear at school that would challenge the framework. We had heated debates with our students over the hot sauce they brought from home which was salty and processed, but, they argued, encouraged them to eat more vegetables. Over time, the food policy stoplight developed into a lengthy and confusing mix of broad categories and specific products. In recent years, we reflected on the purpose and process of the stoplight in order to better clarify and curate the information.