30.3.09

Part of the Solution: School Lunch


Our school district recently had to make a change to their elementary school lunch menu. The bosco sticks, mozzarella stuffed breadsticks dipped in sauce, were replaced by pizza dippers. Apparently, the children had been removing the mozzarella cheese from the bosco sticks, wadding it into a ball, then choking on it. For some reason, the cheese in the pizza dippers does not require the Heimlich, so the stuffed crusts have been deemed an appropriate replacement. But the kids are pretty bummed. The bosco sticks were one of the hottest items on the menu. But, at least the French Toast sticks were reinstated at the start of the semester. That’s a least a small consolation. (That, my dear friends, was sarcasm.)

I have a concern, though, about the lunches served in my daughters’ school, and not just due to airway obstructing cheese, or cheese product, whichever. I’m concerned about the possibility of other ingredients in the meals served: hydrogenated oil, high fructose corn syrup, refined sugar, food dyes, and refined starches – all now thought to be related to be current obesity epidemic and even linked to attentional disorders.

My kids occasionally purchase their lunches – about once a semester, to be honest – because they want to eat the cool stuff that everyone else does. But I can’t help but notice their imbalanced behavior after school when they’re doing homework. Their attention spans suffer dramatically on these days, and completing homework is like pulling teeth.

When we’re struggling to get through math sheets, I remember my former middle school students. My pre-lunch students were usually in high spirits and could carry out multi-step tasks and complete longer quizzes. My post-lunch bunch was dazed, confused, and could barely complete five (suspiciously familiar) question quizzes over material we had just reviewed. The contrasts between my two groups of students were stark, and when I observed their lunch choices – French fries, giant cookies, Gatorade - I began to wonder if it might not make sense to put two and two together.

To enhance my kids’ ability to pay attention in school, I have chosen to pack their lunches 178 days of the school year. Not only do I feel that their sugar-free lunches of fresh vegetables and whole grains will support their academic self-esteem, I also feel strongly that this will help their bodies to function as they were intended to.

So, if I have the ability to pack my own kids’ lunches, why am I so concerned about school food?

Because I am concerned about the 30.5 million children who are served these free lunches, compliments of the National School Lunch Program, every day.

And for some, if not many, of these children, it is the only meal they will eat in a day.

While the NSLP is certainly a noble cause, given my own observations (and they are merely observations), I can’t help but wonder how these meals are truly supporting the growth and empowerment of this generation of children. When the program was initiated by President Truman with the 1946 signing of the National School Lunch Act, it was most unlikely that the lunches of the day were as processed and industrialized as today’s chicken nuggets, pizza, and French toast sticks. Are today’s fast food-style lunches really enhancing education and personal health for those who are relying on exactly that to break the cycle of poverty?

As a Part of the Solution to exploring these issues and working towards equal empowerment for this generation of children, and those that follow, I’d like to do two things:
  • Read School Lunch Politics: The Surprising History of America's Favorite Welfare Program (Politics and Society in Twentieth-Century America) by Susan Levine.
  • Watch the documentary crated by Two Angry Moms, a movie that not only portrays what needs to be changed in our schools’ cafeterias, but also how to create it.

Will you join me?

For additional, interesting reading, please visit The Food Museum

7 comments:

  1. Thanks Kim. I'm getting concerned my kids school lunch menu. Corndogs and chicken nuggests seem to be choices two-three times a week. The meals are cheap, and we couldn't even brown bag it cheaper than what the school offers the food. But, wow, it's not good stuff.

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  2. Cheap, quick and easy seem to be the three most important qualifications for lunch at the Jr. High where I teach.
    And you are right, many of these kids only eat the breakfast and lunch they receive at work. Now, an unhealthy lunch is healthier than no lunch, but I can't help wondering . . .
    If we can pay AIG's bonuses, why can't we buy decent meals for students?

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  3. I was raised on school lunch & breakfast (If your bus was late, you actually got to go straight to the cafeteria and eat, and then get a pass for returning to class), and as a result am a supporter of the school meal programs. And I agree, the "nutrition" is severly lacking.

    The Faulkner County Library here in Arkansas, just outside of Little Rock, is hosting an event this Friday night that I'm excited about. They're going to start with a seed swap, follow with a community discussion of how to integrate gardening and local healthy foods into our school systems and our homes, and finish up with a screening of the documentary "The Future of Food".

    I think free events like this are a great place to start the ideas rolling and getting a variety of people engaged in the discussion.

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  4. unfortunately, the crap is cheaper to get than the healthy choices. and while that sucks for students, it means they can afford to feed more students who would otherwise simply go hungry. when natural foods (veggies and fruit) are cheaper, they will eat better, until then...

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  5. What types of lunches do you pack? I need some healthy inspiration for brown-bagging it to work!

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  6. Kim - thanks for the resources. I'll definitely check out the Levine book.

    I've been reading more about the role the dairy lobbies and others play in determining school lunch programs, WIC recommendations, etc. It's scary!

    A thought for Miss Fitz: the reason the junk food that is served for school lunches as well as in grocery stores is so cheap is because so much of that junk is subsidized by the national government in the form of corn and soybean subsidies. So produce that is not subsidized in those ways doesn't have a chance against the subsidized ingredients used to make things like corn dogs and Doritos and bosco sticks!

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  7. Thanks for the post. I am also very concerned about the foods offered in schools, hospitals and nursing homes. I don't have little ones in school, but from what I hear, the selection is still pretty bad, as when I was in school.

    I found a very interesting non-profit organization that trains everyday people to go into the schools and start healthy eating programs. I just found them on the web and am exploring what this means for me and my local schools. It sounds fantastic and gives me hope! Check it out: www.foodstudies.org

    I mention concern for hospital food because my mom was hospitalized and had surgery last year and the first day that she was allowed to eat, the dietitian brought my mom a blob of green Jell-O. I've never yelled so loud in my life.

    I argued with the nurses, dietitians and finally the doctor in charge of my mom until they finally consented to me bringing in healthful food from the outside, which apparently is generally off-limits to patients.

    Anyway, I think being pro-active (okay, so maybe I didn't YELL) and having conversations with people who make the food decisions is key.

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