Anglophiles know him as the British megastar who hit the scene in 1998 with
his popular television series and corresponding cookbook, The Naked
Chef. Food Network fans have since grown to love his fresh, simple, and
savory flavor combinations -- and don't mind his charming banter, either.
But Jamie Oliver, 33, is much more than an attractive media personality with
an undeniable talent in the kitchen. This TV gourmand, magazine columnist,
married father of two girls, and best-selling author of eight recipe-laden
books -- as well as Jamie at Home, to be released stateside in September
-- is also on a nutrition mission.
Alarmed by the rising obesity rates and the amount of
junk food being served to kids at school in his native U.K., Oliver requested
and was given a meeting with then-prime minister Tony Blair back in 2005. The
young chef issued a challenge to the powerful politico: Fix the dismal state of
hot lunches. The School Food Trust was born, with its motto, "Eat better. Do
better." Three years on, this government initiative swaps fried fare for
wholesome vegetables, provides ongoing training to school kitchen staffs, and
is slowly transforming how British kids eat.
Oliver sees parallels to the United States, with its epidemic of childhood obesity, the increase
of type 2 diabetes being diagnosed
among young adults and even children, and the vending-machine mentality of many
school lunchrooms in this country. "What we eat affects everything: our mood,
behavior, health, growth, even our ability to concentrate," says the chef. "A
lunchtime school meal should provide a growing child with one-third their daily
Joy Bauer, MS, RD, CDN, best-selling author of Joy Bauer's Food Cures:
Treat Common Health Concerns, Look Younger and Live Longer, agrees.
"Without a doubt, balanced nutrition is key for kids to maintain concentration
academically. Every school lunch should offer both complex carbohydrates and
lean proteins-a turkey-breast sandwich on whole wheat bread is a simple and
perfect example of this -- to boost brain and staying power, level moods, and
keep blood sugars on an even keel. In other words, a plain bagel, with nothing
else, can produce volatile spikes in blood sugars and can set up kids for a
And a healthy sandwich with low-fat mayo is just a start, says Bauer. "Fiber
in produce is also extremely important because it slows the absorption of
carbohydrates into the system, which also keeps blood sugars level. There
should be at least one fruit or vegetable in every school lunch or lunchbox,
and preferably both."
With these guidelines in mind, WebMD caught up with Oliver to ask how
American parents can resist fast-food lunch shortcuts.
What inspired you to rid U.K. schools of chips, soda, and candy?
That was actually just part of the campaign. There was a lot more to it --
making sure that catering staff could get training, that each school actually
had a kitchen, because many didn't, and essentially ensuring that kids were
getting a hot, nutritious meal every school day, 190 days of the year. In a lot
of places we visited, we had kids eating fries for lunch and then fries when
they got home every single day, and that wasn't good!