Though it may not be making big headlines, we are in the midst of a children’s health crisis. More kids are experiencing high blood pressure, and a host of other issues, than ever before. In addition, the global pandemic has left one in four children with food insecurity, meaning it’s impossible to know where their next meal will come from. Couple that with the fact that 30 million kids depend on school meals for breakfast and lunch, and it becomes clear that the descent into the common use of processed foods is a major culprit in the decline of
A cause close to Dr. Greene’s heart, Eat Real works to transform the health of kids and the planet by making a return to wholesome, real foods. CEO Nora LaTorre joins us today to share why nutrition is one of the most overlooked aspects of health, and how we can change that. Eat Real is actively working to shift the health trajectory by making nutrition accessible to everyone, and you can help them in reaching their goals!
Below is a transcript of the episode, modified for your reading pleasure. For more information on the people and ideas in the episode, see the links at the bottom of this post.
Agatha Luczo: Hi, I'm Agatha Luczo, mother of four.
[00:00:08] Dr. Greene: And I'm Alan Greene, pediatrician.
[00:00:10] Agatha Luczo: Welcome to Bambini Furtuna's podcast, Mom Driven.
[00:00:14] Dr. Greene: Dr. Aligned.
[00:00:15] Agatha Luczo: Dr. Greene, great to be chatting with you today and thank you for inviting Nora LaTorre, the CEO of Eat REAL to be our guest today.
[00:00:25] Dr. Greene: Agatha, great to be with you and Nora’s one of my favorite people anywhere. I'm so glad to have her here on Mom Driven, Dr. Aligned. And Agatha, I know you're going to love her and the work of Eat REAL. I'm on the board of Eat REAL so I know a lot about what's going on there.
[00:00:37] Agatha Luczo: Yeah, it sounds amazing. I can't wait to learn more.
[00:00:40] Nora LaTorre: Awesome. Well, it is a true honor to be here with both of you. You're such visionaries in the holistic wellness movement, and I love this podcast and everything you're up to with the brands. And I'm really inspired and excited for our conversation today.
[00:00:53] Agatha Luczo: Parents are looking forward to hearing all about it, but first Dr. Greene, can you give us a little overview of the importance of nutrition for kids?
[00:01:00] Dr. Greene: Well, it's hard to think of a more important topic for kids' health. Whenever you look at a child, everything you see is either built out of the food that they eat or built out of the food that mom ate when expecting. And so it's the building block of their life. It's the fuel for what they do. It's the ingredients and medicines for repairing their body. It's really central to health.
[00:01:23] And we know there's so many ways that it impacts kids. We know that what kids eat and how kids eat, changes how well they perform in school. We know that what kids eat and how kids eat changes how well they perform sports. We know that what kids eat and how kids eat changes how likely they are to get sick on a day-to-day basis.
[00:01:42] I mean, things like their iron level and zinc level and vitamin D change how likely they are to get colds and flus and infections during the course of the year and how quickly they're likely to recover. But it's not just the short day to day things, it changes the likelihood of chronic disease. And we're at a time in the United States where, when I started as a pediatrician, almost no kids anywhere had hypertension, high blood pressure. And today millions of kids in the U. S. have high blood pressure, mostly related to the way that they eat. And when I started, it was really unusual to have a kid who had high blood sugar, or a waist size of over 36 inches for a girl or 40 inches for a boy or high triglycerides or cholesterol.
[00:02:28] And today two-thirds of American middle school and high school kids alrighty have at least one of those middle-aged conditions. So in short, how kids eat during childhood changes how long they're likely to live. What a gift it is to give kids what I call nutritional intelligence, the ability to recognize and enjoy healthy amounts of real food.
[00:02:54] Agatha Luczo: Wow. That's so interesting how the difference is from when you started till today, and I know that in our last podcast about the power of olive oil, and also we did a podcast on picky eaters. We talked about eating foods our grandparents would recognize. Is that what you mean by eating real?
[00:03:11] Dr. Greene: Yeah, to a large extent, that's it. It's eating real food. The kinds of things that our grandparents would have recognized as food is one great definition of that. Another is without a lot of added things that make our food less healthy, like too much added sugar or added salt or added chemical ingredients or without too many things stripped away like the natural Omega 3's that are in a lot of foods or fiber that's healthy and foods. So the idea behind Eat REAL, the organization, is to transform kids' health and really the health of our planet by returning to real food in the 21st century. So Nora, tell us more about that.
[00:03:51] Nora LaTorre: Yeah. So at Eat REAL, we're all about making nutrition accessible for all. And we see how sick our country is, our world and especially our kids. And we think that's unfair and unjust and we want to get to the root cause. And so we really see that processed food is the major problem behind that. And real food is the solution. And so. We want to help increase access to real food for kids at school, where they're learning so that we can really fuel them to learn, to focus, to thrive and have success in their learning journeys and ultimately in their lives.
[00:04:25] At Eat REAL, we increase real food access with our schools and increase real food knowledge, or I love that nutritional intelligence so that the next generation on our planet can truly thrive. And so what we do at our nonprofit is we help school districts, not just schools, but entire districts actually transform their food programs.
[00:04:43] And what I love, how you said it, like remove the bad and make sure the good is still there. And that's things like removing toxic ingredients and unhealthy ingredients and adding in good, like local sourcing and removing bad things like in one local school, removing 10 pounds of sugar per student per year
[00:05:01] Dr. Greene: Dramatic.
[00:05:02] Agatha Luczo: Yeah that is dramatic.
[00:05:04] Nora LaTorre: Yeah. You could talk about just the impacts of what that has on their immediate health and then their long-term health. It's massive. And so we really think that it's Eat REAL food at school is essential to learning. And if we can increase Eat REAL food access at school, then we increase the health spans, lifespans and happiness of our children, which then makes for a brighter future for us all.
[00:05:23] And so, what I love in hearing your last podcast, I'm such a fan, was that you discussed how key it is to help kids develop healthy habits earlier and we really believe that in Eat REAL. And so we think one of the most natural places to do that is at school where they're already learning and where we can really make the lunchroom a classroom and then have the lunchroom really feed success in the classroom. And so that's what we're really all about. It's supporting real food at school so that we can help kids develop those healthy habits and create a healthier next generation and help boost our resilience against COVID-19 and future pandemics.
[00:05:59] Dr. Greene: And you're absolutely right that kids learn so much at school besides just the academics. And we're really seeing that during the COVID quarantines, because when people are just distance learning, they can still get the academic bit, but not all the interpersonal part. And just the environment of eating together with your peers and the food that your trusted school system provides. But unfortunately, a lot of times, it's not as great as that opportunity would allow.
[00:06:25] Nora LaTorre: Exactly. And the state of school food today has a lot of opportunity to improve. They're really tight margins at school for the food programs, but there are a lot of schools that are taking action and it is possible even though this is the one of the biggest levers in our entire food system.
[00:06:42] If we look at how we make change in the world within our food system as a top way for climate change and food related disease, schools are so important to that because of their size and scale. And it is possible for schools to fix the state of school food and move from very processed food that's happened over the last 30 years back to real food.
[00:07:04] Agatha Luczo: So, is Eat REAL all throughout the United States? Are you touching school districts? Where are you guys based out of?
[00:07:10] Nora LaTorre: We're a national organization. I'm in California today and we work heavily in Northern California, throughout California, and we do reach across the nation. And what's really exciting is that we have parents and students and advocates reaching out to us almost every day from different schools and school districts across the country. So, we are a national organization.
[00:07:30]Agatha Luczo: And it must be hard right now during COVID because the schools are closed. Is there any way of doing this lunch food program for outside of school, for the schools that are closed?
[00:07:41] Nora LaTorre: Yeah. Our work continues and we've actually had to double down on our impact, which is really interesting. So even though schools are closed, they're still continuing to serve kids meals. They're figuring out how do we keep getting those kids in need [who] depend on these meals, the nutrition and the food that they need.
[00:07:57] And so there are actually many schools that are doing pickup meals. I also was on the phone today with the school district in California that was on buses and they were routing buses to family’s homes and delivering the meals that way. And so our schools are really frontline heroes right now in many cases feeding more families than the local food banks. And so those meals continue. And so our work as a nonprofit then really continues to work and help those meals be nutritious and sustainable. And yeah, it's 30 million kids who depend on school meals. So even though they're shut, those kids really, really need those meals.
[00:08:33] And with rising food insecurity, it's estimated that one in four kids by the end of the year are going to be food insecure. Those families need these meals from their schools and they need them to be nutritious so that they can really have optimal functioning immune systems right now.
[00:08:50] Agatha Luczo: So how can we get involved and our listeners to help with Eat REAL?
[00:08:54] Nora LaTorre: I think that there are three key ways; there's support and advocate and engage. And so under support, in terms of support, we're a nonprofit. And so we're super grateful when anyone reaches out to support us on our website and that when they consider us in their philanthropy strategies for the year, that that makes a big difference because we are funded in our work, actually reaching schools and helping with this transformation is funded by our donor support. So one way is just support the nonprofit in our work.
[00:09:23] In terms of advocating, voting for increased food access and more investments in real food at school is key. So that's at a local level and that's at state levels and at national levels and really encouraging people to have a voice and be an advocate is key.
[00:09:39] And then I think the third one, engaged, we have lots of different ways that people can get involved. They can follow us on social media, Eat REAL certified. They can reach out and get involved. They can ask to get their school district involved and connect us with our food service director. There are a lot of ways that people can engage directly with our nonprofit and really help us transform the health of the next generation.
[00:09:59] Agatha Luczo: That's great.
[00:10:00] Dr. Greene: And each one of those is so important. I can't overstate the significance of this with 30 million kids depending on school meals. And for many kids, that's the lunch that's really central. For many, it's the breakfast. It could be a third or two thirds of the food they eat during the day comes through these programs and with the in-person school gone, then all of a sudden, the family can be in real trouble.
[00:10:20] And what you said about one in four kids being food insecure by the end of the year, food insecure means you're not sure where the next meal or the next day's meal is going to come from. I just heard a stat today that since the beginning of COVID, 8 million more people in the U. S. have dipped below the poverty line.
[00:10:38] So in terms of practical things we can do to help in the short run, as well as building the future, supporting, being advocates and getting engaged are all three really important.
[00:10:49] Agatha Luczo: That's really important to be engaged. It's a big concern for our children.
[00:10:53] Nora LaTorre: I think advocating for other children and then also when you can at home to ensuring that, you know, your kids that are falling in love with real food too, and inspiring them and having when kids are at home, it's a unique opportunity to instill kitchen confidence and to really help them develop those healthy habits at home.
[00:11:11] And so what's interesting about the pandemic is parents now, when they do have their kids at home, have an opportunity when time allows, when finances allow, to really connect with their kids over food and have discussions about it and prepare it together and enjoy it together. And I think that way we're seeing that it actually can build connection and can build that real food intelligence at home.
[00:11:34] Dr. Greene: And Agatha is such an example of that. Her kids rave about how great it is having school at home because the meals are so great.
[00:11:41] Agatha Luczo: They love getting involved.
[00:11:42] Dr. Greene: Yes.
[00:11:43] Agatha Luczo: They will eat anything if they've helped prepare it. And it's amazing. And they take pride in their work.
[00:11:49] Dr. Greene: I love it. Let's get all kids involved in helping to make food.
[00:11:53] Nora LaTorre: I love it! Even my two year old this morning, she got out her little stand and was helping get out the spices. And Dr. Greene, I always hear him talk about how, you know, getting those early, early young children involved too, before they're even starting school is key. And I think with that and with this movement in our homes, and then by advocating for our local schools, I think we're starting to, we're already starting to shift the health trajectories it's underway. So I think we can together all of us working on this and in different ways can really transform the health of our kids. And Dr. Greene, you talked about just how sick really our kids are and it's unacceptable, especially in the richest country in the world. So it's important and it's urgent.
[00:12:31] Dr. Greene: I do agree that it's unacceptable, but I also think in a backwards way, it's good news that decrease in kids' metabolic health just since the eighties is dramatic, but that means it's something that's reversible. We don't have to go back that far to be able to really move ahead.
[00:12:46] Nora LaTorre: It happened quickly and we can solve it quickly.
[00:12:49] Dr. Greene: Yes, we can indeed. And the momentum is building. So Agatha, what are our takeaways for today?
[00:12:54] Agatha Luczo: So our takeaways I think for today is; One: Kids’ nutrition is key to health and learning. Two: When you think of healthy nutrition, think about real food. Three: School meals are so important and often overlooked nutritional opportunity. So as many kids out of school right now, parents need to rethink lunch at home. And four: Help kids get the nutrition they need with a donation to Eat REAL.
[00:13:21] Dr. Greene: Thank you Agatha. And Nora, thank you so much for joining us today.
[00:13:24] Agatha Luczo: Yes. Thank you Nora so much for this was so inspirational.
[00:13:27] Nora LaTorre: Thank you!
[00:13:29] Agatha Luczo: Thank you everyone for joining us today and please join us next time and please rate, review and share Mom Driven, Doctor Aligned.
[00:13:38] Dr. Greene: Until next time.