Monday, April 12, 2010

What's Your Kid Having For School Lunch Today?

Let me be the first to raise my hand and cop to it: I don’t always feed my family the healthiest meals. I mean, we gets down on my 11-cheese macaroni and cheese and Nick’s melt-in-your-mouth smoked pork ribs, and we’ve yet to meet a piece of fried fish or chicken we don’t like.

Still, I do take great care to balance out the fingerlickin’ with the better-for-us—balanced breakfasts (grains and protein, fruits, and dairy for calcium) and dinner plates stacked with lots of colorful vegetables and fruits. For sure, Jamie Oliver, the chef trying to conquer obesity one school lunch at a time with his hit show FOOD REVOLUTION, could wave a potato, okra, broccoli, radicchio, tomatoes, cabbage and collards in my kids’ faces, and they’d not only know what they are, but how delicious they taste.

Mari, Lila, and Mazi know, too, when food sucks (taste-wise and health-wise). Take, for example, this:

Yup, that would be the school lunch served to my 17-year-old, 6 ft., 275-lb son last week: a small serving of Cinnamon Toast Crunch; a warm little jug of chocolate milk; a swallow of warm apple juice, and; a bag of sun chips. This is what they served the entire school after the first lunch period ended in a raucous food fight; as punishment and to prevent more messy lunchroom brawls, the rest of the students were put on lockdown for several hours and served a “bag” lunch in their classrooms.

Um, I think prisoners in solitary have finer dining than this.

Mazi had sense enough not only to know that lunch was dead wrong, but to take a picture of it for proof—probably because he knew I wouldn’t have believed him otherwise. Like, who feeds this crap to kids?

Apparently, more schools than you’d think. Congress reimburses schools $2.68 per lunch, with only $1 going toward food, according to Slow Food USA, an educational non-profit working to make school lunches more healthy and clean for the 31 million children who eat them every day (check out Slow Food USA's TIME FOR LUNCH initiative HERE). How many fruits and vegetables can you buy with a dollar?

Uh huh.

Not many.

Which means that our kids are being plied with processed, high-fat, high-sugar food every day for every lunch if they’re eating the school version. Now, my kids are lucky: They get at least two balanced meals at home and they generally pick healthy food when given the choice at school. But for some kids, school lunch is it—the only meal they get during the course of the day as their parents struggle to keep the lights on and roofs over their heads. I’m not suggesting that it’s solely the school’s responsibility to feed our kids properly—bad eating habits start at home—but dang, can we at least try to gain some kind of standards for the babies when they do eat at school? Kids learn everything else there—why not teach them how to eat better?

Just last week, First Lady Michelle Obama met for the first time with 100 experts to study and report on ways to reduce obesity as part of her “Let’s Move” initiative (THIS STORY details her first day getting down to the nitty gritty of it all). They were charged with coming up with ideas on how to tackle America’s obesity and diabetes epidemic, which costs our nation $263 billion per year—half, according to Slow Food, coming from taxpayer dollars.

Here’s my two cents on how to put a dent in those numbers: How about we get the schools to stop serving our kids sugary cereal, chips, and juice for lunch? (And while we’re at it, maybe we can restore recess so kids can get some unstructured downtime during the day—and a bit of exercise on the swings and monkey bars, too.)

My two cents.

Want to add yours to the collection? Ask your local legislators to pass a strong Child Nutrition Bill with more funding for healthy food, stronger nutrition standards for all the food sold at school (including the junk they sell in the vending machines!) and new support for Farm to School programs. CLICK HERE to learn how you can get more involved and join more than 110,000 parents, children, teachers and ordinary citizens in signing a petition to your local congressman asking they stop playing with our kids’ lunches. And CLICK HERE to add your name to the more than 300,000 people who've already signed Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" petition, which he plans to present to the White House.

Together, we can make a difference!

post signature


  1. We're watching Food Revolution. My son loves the show. We've been talking about healthy eating and I think he's finally starting to "get" why I can be strict with him about sugar etc. The show has people talking for sue, let's hope the talk can be turned into action.

  2. We really do need to tell congress how important this is. The opportunity in now - congress is reauthorizing the child nutrition act and if we're going to make broad changes, this is the best place to start.

    Great post. Thanks!

  3. School lunches disgust me, and most children whether they have to eat it or not. AND, get this, at my daughters' school, a child cannot get water with their lunch. They have to either have a mostly-sugar-juice-like-beverage or full fat milk. If they want water, they have to buy it out of a vending machine for $1. Now, tell me how many low income struggling families can afford $1 a day for water?

  4. @Verbenabeth: OMG—it's the same at my children's schools! In fact, you can only have milk (you can choose from four different versions—regular, vanilla, chocolate and strawberry... yum). If you want juice, you have to come with a doctor's note saying you're lactose intolerant. And water is not offered AT ALL. Just amazing.

    @Mel: You know, we haven't watched the show, but what a GREAT idea to sit the kids down and let them watch it and have conversations about what they're eating. I'm going to DVR it right now.

    @Mark: Thanks for stopping by and reminding us parents that we CAN make a difference. Heading to your site right now...

  5. Isn't it ironic that they learn about the 'pyramid/food groups' in health but are served fatty/sugary foods at lunch? I send my baby with lunch EVERYday...complete w/ fruit & water. Great post & thanks for the site references too!

  6. Wait. What do you mean you can't get water at school?? My oldest is only in Pre-K, so I assume they get healthy meals. I'm a big fan of Jamie Oliver's as well. Perhaps I should drop in and see what my baby is being fed. I can confess that I honestly do not know. I've never heard of not having the option get water in school! All that being said, I've already made plans to pack her lunch once she matriculates to elementary. Call me a cynic, but when it comes to school feeding, I have little faith in government speed and efficiency.

  7. @BLACKswan: SMART to send your baby with lunch. I used to when mine were in private school—it always had a fruit, a veggie, a carb, a dairy, and water—but when we started them at public school, I got lazy. But I do check the school menu and talk to my girls about smart choices—mostly they make them (they'll eat the salad and fresh fruit), but there's still a lot of crap that comes with it.

    @Malaka: Yup. No water for the babies. Mine have the water fountain—that's it. And you're right: it's good to be cynical about the gov. doing what's right, but if enough of us rise up, perhaps we can make SOME change. Make sure you fill out the form to your legislator (the link is toward the end of my post).

  8. My daughter goes to a Montessori, but the parents are expected to provide the child's lunches and snacks (water is provided, thankfully lol), so I tend to do healthy lunches and 1 "bad" snack, and 1 good one. But I can't imagine her being in regular school and eating the unhealthy crap we used to be offered- poorly undercooked at that.

  9. In the district my daughter goes to school & where I work there has been a big push to serve healthier food. BUT...the problem is the change is really drastic and they are serving healthier food, but it's also really bland food that the kids don't like. They are not doing a good job seasoning the food and making it flavorful so now in some ways the kids are learning that healthy food doesn't taste good. There needs to be a happy medium. The nice thing they are doing at our schools here is having a salad bar with fresh fruits and vegetables.
    I am glad that people are starting to take notice of this now though and be more concerned with what kids are eating.

  10. great post! as a K teacher in a public school system i am disgusted at the foods they serve. processed, high fat, high sodium, high sugar, deep fried, artificial junk. thanks for the link

  11. We pack our kids lunches daily because that's all I knew growing up. I also remember what the school lunches looked like back in the day. One word: Ew! But me not participating on pizza Fridays wasn't even right!

    My first thought when glancing at the picture was portion control, but is that cereal...for lunch? Hmmm...

    I see there are some things I didn't know about the school lunch program. I mean, what grade of food does $1 buy I wonder.

    I was schooled tonight.

  12. It's really wonderful to see so many active mothers so involved in watching what their kids are being served at school. School foodservice professionals really want to serve healthier meals to students but their hands are tied by budget constraints.

    Every mom who reads this blog needs to be as active in their school system as possible and support their foodservice people so kids, especially those who can't get a healthy meal at home for whatever reason, at least have one solid meal per day.


Speak Your Mind Here

Related Posts Widget for Blogs by LinkWithin

wibiya widget