School Lunches (Groan)

11 10 2012

Our dinner conversations are usually launched by my 8th grader, a girl of many opinions. She’ll start out by asking each of us how our day went, or sometimes what we did that day. Depending on the answers, or with no relation to the answers, we move on to other topics.

Last night, Paloma (the 8th grader) was telling us about the fruit they had that day in the school lunch. She talked about how grossed out the kids were, and she went on from there, just generally trash-talking the fruit.

I wondered why she was expending negative energy on the school fruit, because she brown bags it for lunch and she loves fruit. When I bring fresh fruit into the house, I have to stash some in a far corner or I’ll never get any. Same with canned fruit. She. Loves. Fruit.

So, I asked her why having fruit with the school lunch was a bad thing, and she told me it’s not the fact that it’s “fruit” (she did the air quotes), but that it was disgusting, slimy, limp, and gross fruit.

I replied that the schools were trying to bring healthier choices to kids, and that providing fruit was a good option. Didn’t she, my fruit-loving girl, agree?

Yes, she did agree, but “you gotta have the good stuff. No kid is gonna eat it if it looks like that. And, it tastes gross.”

This change that kids are seeing in school lunches comes about because of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. It’s legislation that has good intentions and will, I believe, make a difference in the end.

But the trial-and-error phase is painful.

Kids around the country are complaining about the quantity and quality of the food offered each day, and some parents and others are complaining that the allotted calories per lunch don’t take into account the active lifestyle that many kids have at school.

Some kids get their primary nutrition for the day from the school breakfast and lunch, and some kids need help in judging their nutritional requirements because they, like so many adult Americans, are packing on unhealthy body weight.

The fact is, a healthy diet helps one’s body stay healthy. But, as a reasonable adult who knows the importance of good nutrition, would you eat “disgusting, slimy, limp, and gross fruit?” Neither would I, and apparently, neither will many of my daughter’s classmates.

It’s not enough to say our kids should eat healthier, we have to show them what that means and provide for them food that looks and tastes good. We eat with our eyes first, to quote about a thousand chefs.

We need solutions like the Farm to School programs popping up around the country.

What programs are working for your school? Or do you have ideas for programs that might get our kids excited about healthy food and help our schools serve food that the kids actually want to eat?

By Trish Parnell

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.


Kids and Nutrition

25 01 2010

Nurse Mary Beth tells us what works and what doesn’t when it comes to the foods our kids eat.

Listen now!

Right-click here to download podcast (5mb, 10min)