Time for Lunch! Let's get REAL FOOD in schools!

>> 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:


Granola Girl September 5, 2009 at 10:54 PM  

At least half of our neighborhood schools now have student gardens and compost waste foods. This is directly part of their elementary and high school curriculum for science. As such, the foods they eat in the school have increased in health and the desire of children to eat them. When the kids grow spinach for their salads they are much more likely to eat them. Secondly, Dominoes pizza doesn't compost nearly as well as an apple does and that has motivated many changes via the PTA. Whatever isn't eatten in school is donated to the local food bank. I'm pretty sure the start up money came from a grant given to the district to increase science scores and another one to increase the health of the kids. Together, they have created a wonderful program to help incorporate many of the values the surrounding area parents are pushing at home.

cathy September 6, 2009 at 6:51 AM  

Granola Girl - that is AWESOME! Love the creativity that your schools have shown and how they have incorporated healthy food into their curriculum.

Anonymous September 6, 2009 at 7:12 PM  

You might consider something we did with our dd in her old school.

We allowed her to choose school lunch a certain number of times per week/month (depends on how often the menu comes out) that way she got to eat some school food and some home food. It got to be less and less school food over the years as she realized that it wasn't good and our food from home was better. We also limited how many "fast food" choices she could make off the menu as their menu was a combination of regular food and fast food.

J in VA

Jehnie September 6, 2009 at 7:16 PM  

Up until now I was slightly frustrated that our school doesn't even have hot lunch in the elementary school. Last year they instituted a trial run bringing over sandwiches, etc from the high school. Now maybe I'm glad we don't have the uphill battle yet.

Amy September 7, 2009 at 7:11 AM  

Thank you for the links and resources. I have been told over and over, "there is nothing I can do about the school's lunch menu". In other words, don't even try to get in our face about this, its beyond our control." And like your son, my kids love the idea of buying their lunch. So, my kids get to choose one day a week to purchase school lunch. They bring a lunch the rest of the days.
At the beginning of the month we look at the school lunch menu. And they choose which days they get to buy.
You'll never guess which meals they pick? OK, you will... Pizza day! And it is provided by our local fast food pizza joint of course. Like your family, this used to be a treat, now it happens every week!
I'm sure high school is going to be worse. Our kids are allowed to go off campus for their meals.

Sagan September 7, 2009 at 4:43 PM  

Woo yes! I'm glad that there are programs working towards healthier school foods now.

RickyRae September 8, 2009 at 2:51 AM  

I totally agree that school lunches need to be more focused on health and nutrition. Kids learn to make eating choices at such a young age...might as well make it easier for them to choose the healthy stuff.

Growing up, my elementary school had Papa John's Pizza day (twice a week)and Arby's Roast Beef Sandwhich day. Not exactly health food. Plus there was always that mystery meat served in the cafeteria. Hmmmmm....It's about time we had real food in schools!

fatfighter September 9, 2009 at 8:38 PM  

Wow - Dominoes once a week, huh? Interesting.

I've interviewed the Better School Food folks before - what an amazing group.

From what I've been reading lately, it really seems like healthy changes are going to happen in the school lunch programs. Let's hope so.

g.n.a.t. September 10, 2009 at 7:50 AM  

I used your blog and some of your ideas in my own blog post about the future of historical research. http://phdsurvival.blogspot.com/2009/09/future-of-archival-sources.html
I hope you don't mind.

Rachael West November 24, 2009 at 11:45 AM  

My children are not yet in school, but I know when they do get there I won't want them eating any junkie meals. I remember being in school and all the unhealthy fatty foods that they had.

Thankfully in my area they are getting quite strike with the meal options in schools. Hopefully more keeps being done. I really don't want my kids eating unhealthy foods that I don't let them have at home at school.

Rachael West

Caverta Online July 10, 2012 at 10:10 PM  

It's always my pleasure to read this type of stuff.I am very much interested in these types of topics and it's my habit to read this.

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