>> Friday, December 11, 2009
I'm putting December Rewind on hold for a day because a couple of articles that family forwarded to me have school lunches swimming around in my head. This is such an important issue! I've heard the argument that school lunches and vending machines are not the real issue when it comes to teaching kids how to eat healthy - that kids will face temptations all their lives, and they might as well learn to start resisting temptation now. But people, schools are institutions of learning. When you put junk in the schools, you are actively teaching the kids that junk is ok to eat. Those vending machines selling chips and sodas in schools - their very presence implies that eating and drinking junk is fine. Serving kids fast food as a school lunch (Dominoes pizza, anyone?) teaches them that these are good-for-you foods. Kids are paying attention to what they're served and what they have available to them! For some kids, school might be their primary place to learn about eating healthy, but instead they see more chips, more soda, more fast food. Let's stop pimping out our kids to the junk food industry and start serving them real food in schools.
I could go on and on.
Moving on to the news... First, a rather disturbing article from USA Today that asserts that fast food restaurants have higher standards for the meat that they serve than our schools do. So nice to know that our schools serve meat so cheap that McDonalds wouldn't touch it. Read more here.
Next, Miller-McCune talks about recommendations that the Institute of Medicine has for improving school lunches and the difficulty in getting these changes implemented. It's not all black and white - in fact, there's a lot of green (aka money) involved. I hope that the powers in charge at the USDA realize that feeding our kids healthy food and in essence teaching them about healthy food by the foods that schools serve can have potentially dramatic, money-saving consequences down the road. Think of the positive health consequences if we could teach kids early on about how to eat healthy - through example, not just talk. Find the article here.
And now for some personal observations. I posted some of my school lunch fears at the beginning of the school year. I eat lunch with my son at his school once a week, so I've had first-hand experience with his school lunch. My son quite often likes to buy his lunch, and I'm letting him despite my criticisms. Happily, there are quite a few good things to say about the lunches served at his school. The kids have a well-stocked salad bar to choose from at every single lunch. They also have a choice between two different fruits each meal. There is no dessert except on Domino's Pizza day (yes, that's right), which is every Thursday. The teachers and cafeteria workers actively encourage the kids to eat their fruits and vegetables. The school even provides a morning snack of fresh fruit to every child that wants it! Love that!
Amazingly, my son's palate has actually expanded because of his school lunches. He's discovered that he loves celery sticks and Clementines and has tried (and liked) foods that he wouldn't try at a restaurant or at home. Best of all, those new likes spill over to home as he asks for celery sticks with a little ranch dressing for a snack at home or happily eats an entree that he first tried at school.
The bad...well, these are still school lunches. The ingredient quality of the entrees leave much to be desired. The entrees are often bland and mushy and not at all appetizing (at least not to an adult). And did I mention the ingredient quality? Typically, the salad bar is the only vegetable option. That is not necessarily a bad thing as it is full of a variety of fresh vegetables that are good for dipping (and even occasionally cold green peas or cold green beans), but it would be nice to see a well-cooked vegetable offered alongside the entree.
I don't want to leave you with the impression that we're perfect eaters. We're not - far from it. Our food journey is far from over. But, as you know from this blog, we are doing our best to instill healthy eating habits in our children through example. I wish our schools would do the same. I think that things are starting to change for the better. We need to keep the conversation going to keep the positive changes coming!