The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

April 11, 2013

A great investment

— West Virginia is at the forefront of an outstanding initiative.

Educating our children is of the utmost importance.

It sets them on a path that leads to the highest likelihood of success, both professionally and personally.

That’s why an effort to provide healthy meals to school children is a very important part of this year’s legislative sessions.

The Senate has already passed special legislation that could accelerate the breakfast and lunch program so West Virginia would be the first state to offer both meals to all school children free of charge.

It’s up for second reading in the House today and could be up for a vote on Friday.

Although there are many bills worthy of passing, this may be one of a more far-reaching impact than most realize.

Children learn better when they partake of a healthy breakfast — it’s been proven time and time again — giving them a literal daily jump-start toward gaining a quality education.

West Virginia school children are among the most obese in the nation, but instead of munching on unhealthy snacks, students could receive highly nutritional meals.

Truancy has been a problem, especially among the most poverty-stricken communities and families. The incentive to receive hearty meals will help attendance issues in many cases, sadly, but true. Some students have said as much. As long as they’re showing up for class, they’ll get warm meals provided to them.

But even with all of these issues likely to be addressed, why not make this very bill part of the education process itself?

This is a real teaching moment that should not be missed.

Educating children on better eating habits, nutritional information on healthy food options, knowledge of food groups and encouraging a healthy dose of dietary wisdom would serve the children and their families very well.

You have a captive audience every morning and afternoon. You could probably incorporate a health or physical education teacher in the process.

It’s worth investigating.

This week, Janet Poppendieck, a sociology professor at Hunter College, City University of New York, told a special Senate committee that West Virginia should be proud that it stands alone in not offering food items a la carte in the cafeteria since that opens the gates for non-nutritional snacks.

While steps such as removing vending machines have improved school lunch options, more must be done to help our families.

It’s a great investment in our state’s future.

And our children.