SACRAMENTO, Calif. — First Partner Jennifer Siebel Newsom, a mother of four, has prioritized helping kids in California live healthier lives.
Over the last four years, she focused on students’ mental health and increasing access to healthier foods in schools.
She oversaw the creation of the Farm to School program, an initiative where schools buy ingredients for school meals from local farms. The program strengthens the local economy while enhancing kid’s food education.
“How cool is it that we have universal school meals, and we’re going to reduce the stigma around having breakfast or lunch at school because it’s for everyone. And then these meals are fresh, they’re delicious, they’re nutritious, and they’re locally sourced,” Siebel Newsom said.
She has toured around different schools throughout the state to see the progress of the Food to School program. She recently visited the Napa Valley Unified School District Central Kitchen.
“One of the things I love through our Farm to School program is that kids are gaining so much knowledge not just about nutrition, but also about the circular economy, and climate, and they’re our future climate warriors. And they’re also bringing this nutritional information home to their families,” Siebel Newsom said.
The kitchen is one investment made in the farm to school program. The school district also takes part in the Health Food Pathways program, a training initiative to increase the school food workforce.
“I think that in doing so we are not only addressing kids’ health needs, their behavioral needs, their physical and mental health needs, and their academic prowess. But we’re also growing the local economy with our apprenticeship programs, and our school service and chef investments,” Siebel Newsom said.
Mara Fleishman with the Chef Ann Foundation says making food for school kids is incredibly vital and creating training opportunities is necessary to improve the skills needed for a successful school culinary staff.
“This is a really amazing profession. It is a culinary profession that has a mission. You are building the palates of the next generation. Is there anything else that could be more rewarding than actually developing those palates, providing healthy habits for kids to grow into,” Fleishman said.
Kids are still adjusting to the shift in school meals. Margarita Rivera, a cafeteria worker at Napa High School who’s worked in the district for 15 years, said for a lot of the students this is the first time they’ve tried some of the healthier food being served.
Rivera says a lot more students line up for pizza than for the healthy alternatives, she said. Rivera supports having healthier options and understands it’s a change for many kids.
California is committing to helping kids thrive both physically and mentally. Gov. Gavin Newsom allocated $4.7 billion in the state budget to go toward increasing mental health services for children and young adults. Part of the funding will add 40,000 new mental health professionals.
“I’m so excited we’re addressing the fact that there’s this dearth of mental health providers and counselors and even near peers in schools that can really support children where they’re at,” Siebel Newsom said.
The First Partner believes California’s investments are on the right track with improving student’s physical and mental health.
“This big strategy, it’s going to work, I think it’s going to work, it’s just going to take some time, but it is working,” Siebel Newsom said.
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