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Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating


Updated March 26, 2012

Lunch Wars by Amy Kalafa
Tarcher Books
If you're concerned about what your child and his classmates eat at school, and what they're learning about food and health as a result, Amy Kalafa is here to help. In Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children's Health, Kalafa offers lots of advice on how to spark change. She also includes inspiring case studies, sample letters and press releases, and plenty of research to back up her assertions.

Lunch Wars: Pros and Cons


  • Comprehensive
  • Inspirational
  • Well organized and easy to read


  • Readers may feel discouraged by the size of the problem they are facing
  • Not for the casual reader/advocate

Review - Lunch Wars

Horrified by the pink slime, grease, and added sugars often found in school food? So is Amy Kalafa. She was so alarmed by what her daughter could, and did, purchase in her school cafeteria that she made a documentary film about school food and how parents could improve it. Lunch Wars is a follow-up to the movie, a how-to manual for advocates who want to "start a school food revolution and win the battle for our children's health" (as the book's subtitle puts it).

The book outlines several issues advocates might want to tackle, starting with the "scary 6 substances" in school food that Kalafa deems dangerous (pesticide residues, flavorings such as MSG, additives and preservatives, hydrogenated oils, sugar and other sweeteners, and genetically engineered foods). Beyond the menu, parents might want to investigate the cafeteria environment and other policies affecting kids' health, including physical education and recess, school gardens, food-based fundraisers, and so on. One especially strong chapter is devoted to writing a good wellness policy for your school or district. It includes a list of common myths about school food improvements, and ways to refute them. For example:

The kids won't eat it; the kids won't like it.
Most kids are more flexible than we give them credit for. If new foods are introduced properly (tasting, learning about what the food is and where it comes from), children learn to like them readily. Not all kids like every food, but in every example I've found, more students preferred the new food, with some exceptions like nuggets and fries—these were tough to wean from and were phased out over time.
This is a matter of personal choice; parents should decide what their kids should eat, not the schools.
...Educators make decisions on behalf of their students every day. From curriculum content, to where they should go on field trips, to whether the district must cut the music and arts budget or the athletics budget, parents can give input but must ultimately rely on school administrators to act on our behalf.

Lunch Wars also includes a chapter discussing the outsourcing of school food to large food service management companies. Kalafa explains in detail how these corporations work, as well as how federal and local school food programs operate. She gives guidance on how advocates can gather information and then use it. She provides sample letters, surveys, and press releases, plus tips on how to run meetings. Case studies and profiles of activists are sprinkled throughout the book, providing inspiration and fresh ideas. Most (strangely, not all) chapters end with a summary of the steps and how-tos presented in that section.

If you're concerned about school food but don't know where to start, this book will give you the inspiration and the tools to get started. And if you've already started down this path, I think you'll still find much to use in these pages.

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