Lunch of Champions

Rainey Wikstrom at the state Capitol with son Matt Wikstrom

Do you have
an issue you're
passionate about?

to get involved,
contact Erika Zierke
at erika.zierke@

Children's Colorado advocates for policies that can keep kids out of the hospital in the first place. A vital part of the hospital's mission is empowering citizen advocates with the knowledge and tools to speak up for kids' health with local government officials, at the state Capitol, and in Washington, D.C.

Rainey Wikstrom leans against the cafeteria wall, watching kids file in for lunch.

She's timing how long it takes them to get and eat their food. Many schools now offer healthier meals, but, she says, kids often don't have enough time to eat them. This wastes food, lowers academic achievement and creates nutritional deficits.

For Wikstrom, school food is personal.

Her son, Matt, struggled with severe allergies for years. Wikstrom switched the family to whole, simple foods; over time, her son's allergies cleared up. She asked herself, 'If healthy food can make a difference for my son, what can it do for other children?'

For years, Wikstrom has advocated to make school lunches wholesome and ensure kids have enough time to eat. Still, she wasn't sure how to advocate for statewide change.

"I was intimidated to even go into the state Capitol," she said. "It was just so foreign to me."

Then Wikstrom attended Speak Up For Kids' Health Day in February 2012, organized by Children's Colorado and key partners to give budding advocates the skills and confidence to lobby at the legislature. Children's Colorado staff led Wikstrom and 70 others to the Capitol to find their legislators and start conversations about kids' health issues.

The air of mystery around the Capitol vanished.

Since then, Wikstrom has pressed state officials about school lunches. She has also recruited parents at Children's Colorado to advocate for nutrition issues. She's even writing a book about advocacy.

"I believe in building champions," Wikstrom said.

This is how change begins; the courage to speak up turns moms and dads into champions.