News and personal observations on school lunches

>> 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!


Mark Salinas December 11, 2009 at 3:14 PM  

What a post! I have almost completely eliminated HFCS from my diet. I A Life Less Sweet for food, info. etc. Thanks for doing the research! Very good information as always!

Cindy Rowland December 12, 2009 at 3:44 AM  

My oldest started going to school for a full day this year. When I first saw the school lunch menu and started paying attention to all the press, I was motivated to do something about it. But then I read some articles about the limitations faced by the caferteria staff. They only have a budget of around $2 per meal and they have "picky" palates to please. Most caferterias have limited cooking equipment as well. It's amazing what they do accomplish given all of this.

The USA Today school meat investigation was disturbing to read. I've already put my foot down on chicken nuggets and told my kid what they are made of. Sigh.

Paul A Drockton M.A. December 12, 2009 at 11:06 AM  

Did You know that your Blog is one of Google's top 100 for weight loss and dieting?
Pretty amazing if you ask me!

My Year Without December 12, 2009 at 2:58 PM  

I just watched a documentary about obesity called "Killer at Large" and it discussed school lunches quite a bit. It was a startling wake-up to all the variables contributing to obesity......the most disturbing of which is the epidemic of childhood obesity....

Amy December 13, 2009 at 11:42 AM  

I listened to a local radio show the other day about that article on the meat the schools get. The "spent hens" that are purchased for the schools are nutritionally equivalent to the meat purchased for fast food restaraunts. The difference is the texture of the meat. KFC won't buy it cause you wouldn't eat this meat by itself (as a drumstick or breast), because it is stringy and tough. But ground up it is appropriate for meals. Nutritionally, they are the same. And a spent hen is only past its prime for laying eggs, they certainly aren't about to die. They are usually about 3 years old, with a life span of 6 years. Don't get me wrong, School lunches have LOT's of problems, and I don't care for school lunches, but I just wanted to share what I heard about "spent hens"

Sagan December 14, 2009 at 6:14 AM  

Well at least your school is on the right track! I shudder to think of the state of most school-provided lunches.

So weird about the meat thing... the quality of food everywhere is really dismal!

Jill December 15, 2009 at 10:58 AM  

My son's school has a contract with Coke - they supplied the $ for the fancy scoreboards, and they get to put their poison-vending machines in my kid's school - apparently forever. Also groups that sell food at games are not allowed to sell beverages - they must be purchased at the machines.
Money talks - but shouldn't rising rates of type II diabetes talk, too?

Jenna December 16, 2009 at 9:03 PM  

thanks for sharing your thoughts. i too eat lunch with my oldest at school and it is frightening how many 5 year olds don't know how to eat enough food in 20 minutes to give them energy for the day. i just posted on this topic last week. your son's school is doing well if they have enough staff to help kids eat at lunch. my sons school does not and sadly the kids pay the price.

it is true that good and bad habits can be learned by peers. glad some good habits are coming home!

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