>> Saturday, September 5, 2009
What's for lunch at your child's school? Are you happy with it? My son, a kindergartner, will likely eat lunch that his school serves most days. He's completely enthralled with the idea of buying his school lunch and likes the food. I just can't take that away from him. I would so much rather pack his lunch for him every day so that I know he's eating good, healthy foods that will help his body and brain grow.
What do I have against school lunches? The school lunch menu at my son's school isn't as awful as I had feared, but it still feels like my son is going out to eat at a fast-food restaurant every day for lunch now. Some days the lunches are better than others, of course. My fears weren't eased when I found out that every Thursday is Dominoes Pizza day in the cafeteria. For real. The indoctrination into junk and fast food starts early - even in the schools.
To be fair, it isn't all bad. Some sort of fruit or vegetable is served along with lunch in his school every day. His class has a "fresh fruit grant" that will provide his entire class with a healthy snack of fresh fruit each day. Gotta applause moves like that! And his school doesn't have vending machines peddling sodas and junk food in convenient snack packs like so many schools do - at least not at the lower grade levels. And to be fair, it isn't like I am against my son having Dominoes or food such as that on occasion...or that I always serve a completely nutritious lunch at home. My kids have their share of boxed macaroni and cheese, I am not proud to admit.
But, I have a problem with schools condoning junk food and striking deals with fast food franchises (and yes, I most definitely lump Dominoes in that group). Our schools should be teaching our kids about eating healthy through example and through what they serve. It's easy to forget that how we eat - and how that food affects our bodies - can be an important factor in how we learn. If schools want to raise their test scores, they should remember that how their kids are eating and how much activity they are allowed during the day can have a big impact on how much information they retain.
Fast food, like Dominoes, used to be a treat in my home - something bought strictly as a treat or (more typically) out of necessity when we travel. Now it will become a weekly occurrence sanctioned by his school. I don't know about your child, but my young child equates something sanctioned by the school as being good and good for you. That's a big a hurdle for me to overcome.
Why do schools serve the food that they do? Money, money, money, and maybe a little lack of creativity. They serve what they can afford to serve and what they know kids will eat. On the second reason, unfortunately, they seem to serve to the lowest common denominator of kids' taste buds without even trying to challenge them to eat better food - or without realizing that good, healthy food can still taste delicious and be appealing to children. There are ways to take old favorites - taco salad, for example - and make them healthier for our kids.
On what they can afford to serve, well, that's a trickier nut to crack. But some schools are finding ways to serve good food within their limited budget. I imagine that it takes a lot of creativity and drive to produce a really great school lunch menu within the given budget instead of resorting to the tried and true (and outside company funded) school lunches. A school official in my district went on record saying (paraphrasing - it's been a while since I read his quote) that he would love to serve all healthy foods but that they can't afford to cut out high fructose corn syrup and other problematic ingredients. In other words, they're going to keep serving the junk because it's cheap, and they've got enough issues to worry about.
How can we change our school's lunches? One small thing you can do is coming up. Time for Lunch (part of Slow Food USA) is having a national "eat in." On Labor Day, there will be a "National Day of Action to get real food into schools" at various locations around the country. The purpose? To send a message to congress and our local schools that we think its time that our schools serve real, healthy food to our children. You can read more about the Time for Lunch platform here.
Why now? The National School Lunch Lunch Program, which sets the standard for what kids eat every day at school, is set to be reauthorized this month and will be the standard that schools look to when planning school lunches for the next 5 years.
To find out if there is an "eat in" near you, go to the Time for Lunch website. You can also sign a petition telling Congress that you support the Time for Lunch platform and want to see changes in the school lunch program. And of course, you can always take action into your own hands and talk directly to your congress men and women and school officials.
I'm curious...how are the lunches in your child's school? Whether you have kids or not, what do you think of this issue?
Other sites with school lunch information and resources that you might find interesting:
- Respected nutritionist Marion Nestle weighs in on school lunches
- School Lunch Talk is a cornucopia of information on school lunches and policy
- Better School Food supports parents, educators, and health professionals in their quest for better school lunches. Loads of information here.
- Farm to School programs are increasingly available through the U.S. connecting schools with local farms. What a great idea!