School Lunches: What Can YOU Do?

7 05 2010

On the ladder of cuisine jokes, school cafeteria food is probably the biggest target around, edging out horrifying airline meals and bland hospital fare.

Apologies if your child’s school has a good chef in the house, but most of us remember our school lunches for what they were: nightmarish concoctions of mystery meat and formless flavors garnished with a spork.

After a couple of weeks at school, you learn the menu and act accordingly: reach for the favorites and avoid the scary stuff. It’s no wonder kids get hooked on fatty burgers, cheesy pizza, and sugary soft drinks.

A man you might have seen on TV recently aims to halt the trend (and before you read on, in the interest of disclosure, no, we do not have any financial interests in anything connected to him, but we think he’s doing a heck of a job). His name is Jamie Oliver, a TV celeb, chef, and restaurateur who gained fame in Britain for pushing healthier eating habits on Britain’s children.

Bringing his bold form of nutrition intervention stateside, he can be seen coaxing children to identify various vegetables and demonstrating what really goes into those tasty chicken nuggets (put chicken leftovers in a blender and press a button) on ABC’s Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.

And, he’s not the only one on a crusade to see what goes into the morsels our kids eat at school. One teacher pledged to eat each school lunch, just as her students did each day.

Others see it as a cultural studies opportunity, comparing U.S. school lunches to those served around the world.

Even if cafeterias aren’t award winning bistros, some families depend on school food programs. Sometimes it’s the only meal kids get all day.

Making quality meals with nutritional ingredients can spike the food bill—something cash-strapped school districts don’t have the luxury of fixing quickly.

So, what can you as a parent do?

The Alliance for a Healthier Generation suggests:

  • Meet Over Lunch: Read the school menu with your child and look for the healthiest choices.
  • Pack a healthy lunch: Fill your child’s lunchbox with healthy, tasty foods–like whole grain bread, fresh fruits and veggies, lean meats, low-fat (1%) or fat-free milk and 100% juice.
  • Get Growing: Get a group of parents together, pick a place, and design the perfect garden for students. Then set a budget, raise a few dollars and start digging!
  • Study: Find out whether your kids can get healthy foods in the cafeteria or vending machines. And see if the school is selling healthy foods at fundraisers.
  • Appreciate: Tell teachers and school staff that you value their efforts to provide healthy foods and beverages at school.
  • Work with your school principal, district school board or food service department to adopt nutrition standards like the Alliance for a Healthier Generation’s Guidelines for all food and beverage sales outside of school meals, including through vending, a la carte, school stores and fundraisers.