Educating Ourselves on School Lunches
I think school lunches have been on the radar for at least the last year – with Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution airing last April. I know a lot of those in the “real food world” have been speaking out about them for years, but to little to no avail. But Jamie Oliver got the mainstream America talking, at least for a little while. School lunch news this week has been all freshly abuzz with the premiere of Food Revolution 2, an article in the Washington Post about flavored milk, and an article in the Chicago Tribune about a school that didn’t allow any child without a medical permission slip to eat anything but the lunches provided by the school.
Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution Season 2 began on Tuesday night on ABC. Here is a link to the first episode. I don’t know how long ABC keeps their links up, but hopefully it will be long enough for you to be able to see it. Unlike the first season, where the schools in Huntington, West Virginia, opened their cafeteria doors to Oliver, this season in Los Angeles, he has not been allowed into the schools. Instead, he has students and parents bringing him food from the schools. One of the things that he does really well is bring his point across visually. In the first episode, he filled a school bus full of sugar to show how much sugar students consume in a single week by drinking flavored milk. Seeing that much sugar spilling out of the door of the bus is much more shocking than hearing that they’re drinking 28 grams of sugar. If you don’t think that’s a big deal, you might want to read this New York Times Magazine article titled, “Is Sugar Toxic?”
As far as flavored milk goes, this week in the Washington Post, there was an article about two districts in their reading area banning flavored milk, but among a sea of controversy over such a ban, one county was reintroducing it back into the cafeteria.
“We got 10 to 20 e-mails a day,” said Penny McConnell, director of food and nutrition services for Fairfax. “It was a lot of pressure.”
A lot of pressure from parents demanding that their children be allowed to consume flavored drinks that had as much sugar in them as a can of soda pop or a candy bar.
And finally, the Chicago Tribune reported on a school that has a rule that students were not allowed to bring lunches from home (without a medical excuse). What I read last night was that the principal has decided not to continue to enforce that rule in a sea of blogosphere controversy about this rule. But one dissenting post I read pointed out that for six years it’s been a rule, and no parents have complained. Of course no parents have complained – 99% of the students in that school get free school lunch – who is there to complain?
It all boils down to education. I really believe that if most parents were educated on just how bad processed, refined, artificially flavored, chemically enhanced, ammonia washed, bleached, enriched foods are for their children, how damaging it is to their bodies, how obese our children are becoming due only to the food choices parents are making, and how much their children’s health will suffer from the constant consumption of it — I really believe that if most parents knew about it, really knew and understood, they would make changes and they would demand changes.
I was talking to a young mother a few weeks ago about food. She grew up eating fast food, and has no education about good foods. She was asking me questions about feeding her kids certain things and said, “My son (who is 2) loves cheese. He eats it all day long. Is that bad for him?” I asked her what kind of cheese. She said, “You know. Cheese.” I asked her if she was talking about processed American “cheese” or chunks of natural mozzarella. By the end of the conversation, I found out that she only knew about processed American “cheese” – she had never eaten (other than on a pizza) any other kind of cheese. I was appalled that she didn’t even know about other kinds of cheeses, and wondered if she was pulling my leg until I realized she was completely serious. I opened my cheese drawer in my refrigerator and emptied it into a bag for her so that she could take it home and experiment with different cheeses and different tastes for her kids.
Another woman I was speaking to was telling me how excited she was that her 9-year-old daughter was learning how to cook. Interested, I engaged her about it and discovered that she had purchased her daughter a toaster oven so that she could cook her own frozen pizzas.
Early in the school year, I posted a picture on my Facebook page of Kaylee’s typical daily lunch. I said that Kaylee had told me that her friends think her lunch is “weird.” Every day, even now – two months before school gets out for the year – when she opens her lunch box, her friends crowd around to see what “weird” food she’s bringing today. Here is the picture I posted:
It contained: turkey with mustard on homemade bread, lettuce & tomato for the sandwich, salt & pepper potato chips, (organic) yogurt tube, (organic) grapes, a slice of homemade pumpkin pie, a can of sparkling clementine soda (she also carries a water bottle from which she drinks all day).
I personally don’t understand how school lunches didn’t make a radical change nationally after the exposure of the federal government’s regulations about school lunches were exposed in the first season of Food Revolution. I know that Michelle Obama initiated a school lunch reform that President Obama signed into law in December. But that law has to battle against each state’s individual law’s regarding school lunch regulations, and change is going to be resented, if not outright ignored. Knowing how bad the food offered by the schools can be, even on my laziest mornings I make sure Kaylee walks out the door with good food that will help her in her school day and extend to her evening full of softball practices or games.
She is excited because she starts high school next year. After her recent tour of the school, where her class ate lunch in the high school’s cafeteria, she came home telling me about the fresh salad bar and other healthy offerings. Because while we’ve educated ourselves about good food versus bad food for our bodies, we’ve educated her, and taught her how to make the healthiest choices when it comes to what to eat. We don’t ban fast food, we just want her to make good decisions. She’ll pick grilled chicken at McDonalds, or a salad at Wendy’s, and vegetarian sushi over any of it. She certainly wouldn’t think homemade lunch was “weird”.
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So many people don’t understand what is going on. I know just a little and the more I learn, the more sick I feel. How much crap I have fed my older children because I did not know? I keep telling Chris that we need to “get off the grid”. I don’t want to be dependent on anyone for our food (or our electricity/fuel for that matter) because I don’t think our government is doing a good job of making sure we’re protected.
My hope is that by sharing, talking, blogging…people will learn. If we educate ourselves maybe, just maybe, we can turn things around.
Wonderfully said, Hallee! I am a teacher in an elementary school and even though our school lunches underwent a major change years ago, I still wouldn’t let my daughter eat them. Nothing “looks” gross; there’s fruit and/or vegetables at each meal; and nothing is fried anymore. However, it doesn’t make what they serve healthy. Once Lucy starts kindergarten, she will be bringing her lunch. Sure, it’s more work for me — but that’s being a parent.
We plan on going off the grid. We’re looking for land – just a few acres – and plan on building an autonomous house and creating a self-sustaining environment. It will be a few more years before we can get started, but it will be wonderful when it’s all done and up and running.
My brother-in-law is a middle school teacher. We were staying with them last week while we spent spring break in D.C. He was packing a week’s worth of lunches Sunday night and I said, “You don’t eat school lunch?”
He shuddered and said, “The lunch they serve is just yuck.”
I live on an Indian Reservation, my children are proved both breakfast and lunch free at school. All the children at school get their meals free. The sad truth is the school and the tribe know that for some kids that is the only time that they will eat. One of my friend’s is the dietitian for all three schools (elementary, jr. high, and the high school), and another friend is a cook. Everything that is prepared is made fresh. The schools only offer white milk and all the schools also offer a fresh salad bar. For children, like my son, who have a milk allergy, they get juice.
I pack my kids’ lunches 99% of the time. Occasionally, Ellie will want to buy lunch – she likes the hummus and pita with mini carrots and an apple. :) They do have good choices in her school. But most kids and parents don’t choose them. The simple fact is that we would all be better served if the choices were all healthy, instead of the healthy choice being the exception to the rule.
This was a great post, thank you! Your daughter’s lunch looks delicious! I saw the Food Revolution episode and was appalled. Looking at the school menu for my son’s elementary, it appears to all be processed and unhealthy. The lunches average 700-800 calories!! I will never feed him a school lunch.
im still trying to get over that first episode! i think its up until the next episode airs.(and im referring to the pink slime segment!)
my husband and i were discussing all this the other night and he looked at me and said “our kids are taking lunch to school aren’t they?” you better BELIEVE they will be. they are not healthy lunches…ive been in the school at lunch time for speech and i do all i can not to let my stomach churn as i look at the “chicken nuggets”, white bread, and something that resembles peaches! oh and they use disposable lunch trays! What a waste!
I blogged about this on Wednesday too. It is sad that in this day and age people don’t open their eyes and ears and really listen to what is being said about foods. Now, I’m not a total health nut, my boys do like to eat what many consider junk, but it is done under my supervision and in moderation. There are ways to deal with these issues without blanket punishing people ie the Chicago school incident. School lunches are in sad shape but there are so many other issues that contribute to the childhood obesity factor that shockingly aren’t being addressed yet… such as the lack of physical activity children are allowed to partake in during a typical school day.
I think this is a great post, Hallee! And this may be the very first time I’ve ever felt so inclined to post a comment…
My kids are too young to be in the school system yet but they are in a preschool/daycare and I’ve had my share of fights with directors about food for my kids. When Cael was young, a director fought me on providing his homemade baby food, quoting some kind of policy that all kids must be fed ONLY baby food from factory-sealed containers. I pressed on and won that battle, but it remains difficult to get quality nutrition in my kids when they are away from home. The fight over healthy food in schools doesn’t start in Kindergarten. It begins, for the millions of kids who cannot or will not spend their preschool years at home, in our Head Starts and our private preschools. Those formative years are critical but for parents who have little choice but to send their kids to daycare and preschool, there often seems to be nothing but battles. And there are rules about sack lunches at these daycare centers as well. No child can have any food outside of the menu without a doctor’s form – even children like my son who has food allergies. Doctor’s notes and permission forms to attend to my own children’s nutritional needs? Seems crazy, doesn’t it? I’m actually looking forward to the elementary school years when I can send a wonderfully “weird” sack lunch with my kids every day without a hassle.
I work at the high school here in town we do have a great variety of fresh salads and fruits and veggies for the kids to choose from but most of the kids stay away from that and go with the imitation cheese pizzas and day glow orange cheetos. I have seen changes since starting there this school year. Instead of offering just 2% and 1% milk skim is also an option. Not all cashiers put it out in reach of the kids but I make sure it is always out on my line. I am questioned as to mhy none of the kids will take it, but they do. if we make the move to provide healthy options to our kids they will make the right decisions. We just have to make it available and the norm!! Love this post Hallee and I am going to share it on my Facebook!!