Fixing School Lunch in Two Easy Steps

imageHow often do we hear that kids don’t eat their vegetables? It’s been a classic American icon since the advent of television, I’m guessing: the child sitting at the table, staring down the pile of spinach mush or Brussels sprouts on their plate, refusing to eat their vegetables and yet not allowed to leave the table until they do. The trend continues in our public schools all across the nation, as legions of canned green beans, over-cooked broccoli and mixed vegetables go careening off trays into 50-gallon garbage cans, without passing Go and without touching the taste buds of our youngest citizens.

As Sarah Wu shares in Fed Up with Lunch, it’s the chocolate milk and Icee pops – which, to our mutual horror, count as a fruit – that go down the hatch first, and much of the rest goes into the trash.

If anything else is consumed, I guarantee it’s the main course, which can often be eaten with one’s hands, and the fried potato side, dressed up differently each day as either French fries, hash browns, or some other derivative of “fried” and “potatoes.” Because really – what 6-to-10-year-old child has time to use a utensil if they don’t have to? (Case in point: the last time we had salmon, homemade French fries, and steamed broccoli at the Kimball house, my 6-year-old boy’s fork went untouched. We  had a talk about that…) (top photo source)

Step One: Removing the “Vegetable Side Dish”

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You read that right. My plan to get kids to eat more vegetables at school is to take them out of their little compartment on the tray. While reading through the school lunch menu at my son’s school, which is, I guarantee, better than some, I figured out the vegetable problem.Why aren’t kids getting enough vegetables at lunch? It’s because they’re lonely. (The vegetables, not the kids.) The veggies seem to be served exclusively in one of three ways: as tomato sauce, as potatoes, or by themselves. What child is going to use their lousy 15 minutes to eat to focus on limp, lukewarm, canned green beans or soggy broccoli when it’s next to a hamburger or slice of pizza? Nobody eats a plain old vegetable side dish. Even many adults will leave a pile of canned mixed vegetables on the plate, especially if the veggies aren’t seasoned in any particular way or they have a limited amount of time to eat. I can solve the vegetable problem with one change: put veggies in the main course. Quit separating all the foods so that the main course is left with only meat and grains (which are almost always gluten-containing grains; more on that below). I realize that having clear demarcations between food groups makes it easier for the USDA to evaluate the lunches to make sure they fit the standards: a hunk of meat, a bun or piece of bread (usually both; two servings of grains are stupidly required), a pile of veggies, the milk, and a fruit. However. This is a national program, the school lunch thing, and I’m sure the USDA nutritionists are capable of figuring out how many ounces of chicken-vegetable stir fry would be needed to equal “one serving” of vegetables. If not, they don’t deserve their jobs. Think of all the ways you eat vegetables during the day: it’s likely that as an adult, you might have a nightly salad with veggies, maybe some raw veggies with dip at lunch, and perhaps you enjoy your vegetable side dish with dinner – perhaps you season it nicely or add some fresh Parmesan cheese, too.At our house, the vegetables definitely go down that way, but to get five-a-day without incorporating veggies into the main course would be impossible. We eats a great deal of soup, put orange veggies into our morning pancakes, have green smoothies for a snack, and put vegetables into burritos, casseroles, and even scrambled eggs. If not for that, I guarantee no one in our family would eat vegetables for more than one meal a day every day. Veggies are tough – I admit that they’re not even all that prevalent in my eBook, Healthy Snacks to Go, although some of the new recipes include vegetables. That’s why it’s important that the meals in The Everything Beans Book DO include lots of veggies, and I figure out how to send some of them for lunch. I also send carrot sticks and cucumber slices with homemade ranch dressing or guacamole for dipping with my first grader rather regularly. Even though he has a luxurious half hour for lunch – he still says he doesn’t have enough time – and guess what is most likely to remain in the lunchbox upon its arrival back on my counter? The carrots. It’s not that he doesn’t like them. The boy will take five carrot sticks and 3 cukes at dinner and consume every last bite. I think they just take too long to chew at lunch, and he happens to leave them for last and then wants to get outside and play when that time comes. On the days I decide to skip them because I know he probably won’t get to them anyway, I’m glad no one makes him eat school lunch instead. I’m not just being paranoid.Did you see the story a few weeks ago in the news about the 4-year-old whose lunch consisting of a turkey-and-cheese sandwich, apple juice, a banana and potato chips was deemed by a visiting state official to be “not nutritious” according to USDA guidelines? They gave her the school lunch instead, and she ate three chicken nuggets. ‘Cause that’s so very nutritious, balanced, and wholesome. You bet mom was surprised when she brought her entire lunch home along with a note warning that they may have to pay for cafeteria fees if it continued to happen! Mom explains that her girl is a picky eater (what 4-year-old isn’t?) and that she serves vegetables at home so she can watch to make sure they get eaten. Case in point: the green beans on the lunch tray went into the garbage. Duh. This tangent brings me back around to my original point: serve wholesome main courses that incorporate the vegetables if you really want students to eat the vegetables, not just stare at them on the plates. Any guideline that is simply there to become a hoop through which to jump isn’t helping our nation’s kids get healthier, nor is it improving the school lunch program. It’s just making the trays look balanced when they’re served. Might as well make sure the tests look good when they’re administered, but who cares about the actual performance of the kids taking them. That would save lots of government money – just don’t score the tests, but make sure they’re balanced.Who cares what kids eat as long as the right foods are on the tray?

Step Two: Getting into the Mind of the Child

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I’m no idealist. I understand that no matter where the vegetables go on the trays, many kids still won’t touch them. I’ve watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution shows. Kids are entrenched in their hamburger/pizza/French fry routines, and they don’t like change. But if we never present them with real food and only offer options that can be found in a fast food restaurant and on dastardly children’s menus, we sell them short. When kids are offered wholesome foods with no other competition on the plate, they quite often choose to taste and ultimately enjoy the healthful choices. Common advice for parents of young children is to get them in the kitchen helping with food preparation. It’s said, accurately so, that when a child is invested in the food – when he or she has a chance to grow, purchase, or prepare the meal – they’re more likely to taste, eat, and enjoy the final product. Although we can’t get all the kids into the cafeteria kitchen, I think a similar end could be attained by getting kids engaged with their food in general. Kids should take a critical look at the school lunch menu, and this could be done as early as first grade (why not kindergarten too?).As a teacher by training, here’s what I would do to promote school lunch awareness in the classroom:
  • Divide children into four groups.
  • Assign each group something to look for in the school lunch menu: green vegetables, orange vegetables, wheat, and potatoes.
  • Pass out a copy of the lunch menu and a red marker and ask each group to circle the days on which their item shows up.
  • As a class, discuss how often we eat wheat. (In both school lunch menus I’ve done this with, approximately 3-4 days per month did not include wheat in some way.) Brainstorm other grains that would help variety.
    • With older grades, you bet I’d delve into the subject of the increasing gluten intolerance in our country.
    • Perhaps by second or third grade, I would also separate whole grains and white flour and talk about how each works in the body.
  • As a class, compare orange and green veggies with potatoes. Discuss how the potatoes are prepared (often fried).
    • With older grades, compare nutritional information on the veggies to demonstrate that potatoes aren’t always the optimal choice for top nutrition.
    • With younger grades, discuss “eating a rainbow” and why it’s important to have different colored fruits and vegetables.
I would absolutely bring in varied fruits and veggies for a taste test. I would brainstorm with the children about their favorite ways to eat vegetables (and share it with the district food services). I would talk often about how important a balanced diet is, incorporating many different kinds of foods.Would these two simple steps actually fix school lunch? Well, no. Sorry I misled you by titling the post so brazenly. Winking smileThere’s still way too many grains, in my opinion, sugared up chocolate milk in many schools, and the Icees would have to go. I do think that it would be a HUGE step in the right direction, though, much like Chicago Public Schools choosing to serve 1.2 million pounds of chicken raised on Amish farms without antibiotics to their schoolchildren (about 60% of the chicken served).

What Can I Really Do?

I’m not a schoolteacher (anymore), an administrator, or a government official. I feel out of control of the school lunch menu. I was able to make one small change in the flow of school waste and am beginning to advocate for a better juice policy within the classrooms, and I’m hopeful that with time, building trust in the schools, and a little pluck, I can share more ideas in our district (and then – the worrrrrrrrrrld! Mwah ha ha haha!). Why not have the teachers and administrators do the same exercise, with a complete lesson on the over-prevalence of gluten in our country, for starters? Actually, I’m going to start with Sarah Wu’s recommendations in the end of her book, Fed Up With Lunch: someday soon, I’ll eat lunch with the kids. I’ll observe. I’ll ask questions. And I’ll start to formulate a plan. Will I be taking my group lunch menu project into every classroom at my son’s elementary school? Maybe, maybe not. But I can tell you, in our time there, I hope to be an agent of positive change, from the Styrofoam trays the lunch is served on (there’s got to be a better way to do that) to the excess of gluten and absence of vegetables entering kids’ mouths.What do you wish you could do in your school district to improve what kids eat?I know, I know…many of you choose to homeschool, and being totally in charge of what your kids eat is awesome. However, the fact remains that in your “village” where everyone should be responsible for the welfare of our nation’s kids, those at school are eating a lot of junk. What can you do about it?

A Quick Thank You

Each month, KS is supported by a handful of quality small businesses who place a little ad in my sidebar. For those of you reading only by RSS or email, I always include a quick mention of each of them within a post. Next week is going to be consumed by 3rd blogoversary celebrations with NINE different giveaway posts – you’ll get to review some of my favorite products and meet some new ones! – so before that all gets going I need to make sure I thank two remaining sponsors this month:Bare Fruit apple chips - healthy school lunch ideasBare Fruit Snacks is a new sponsor after I fell in love with their organic apple chips – the kind of food so good my 3yo begs for them like they’re candy. For real. They’ve caused temper tantrums when she can’t have seconds. (*not guaranteed to have the same effect in your home…)Right now, Bare Fruit is running a fun campaign to form a bigger Facebook community – if you go to their page, you can sign up to win a trip to the Olympic Summer Games, and if you’re a KS reader, BFS will give you an extra $500 spending money, cash in your pocket! Not interested in the Olympics? You can also find coupons and online ordering information in the left sidebar of the page, and watch for Bare Fruit at Costco, Whole Foods, and local health food stores. Plan to Eat has been a longtime sponsor for whom I’ve very thankful. Many readers use the powerful meal planning software to organize their nightly dinners, keep a recipe book, and even manage their shopping lists and pantry right from their phone or tablet. Check out the 30-day free trial HERE.

35 thoughts on “Fixing School Lunch in Two Easy Steps”

  1. This post reminds me of a show I watched last year called “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution” where he went into a school in America and worked for two MONTHS with the cafeteria workers, attempting to show them how to replace the processed foods with stuff made from scratch and stay within their budget. It was both uplifting and absolutely HORRIFYING, as I watched the local school district representative come in to observe and she insisted they had to offer french fries alonside the fresh veggie-noodle stir fry Jamie had made because his didn’t meet the food pyramid “requirements”. After a while I had to stop watching because I felt so bad for Jamie, it was like watching someone bash their head against the wall.

    This was a very well-written post, as always, Katie!

  2. I really enjoyed reading this post. My child hasn’t started school yet and I’m thinking about homeschooling, but don’t have support from my husband… yet. This topic has been discussed with other friends and we still don’t know what we plan to do when our kids enter school. Another issue we’ve come across is kids not being allowed recess on a daily basis because the district not passing state tests.

  3. While that child’s home packed lunch was not the best options out there, it was still healthier than eating 3 chicken nuggets. Ugh! What is wrong with people?

    Glad to see I am not the only one who puts orange veggies into my pancakes. I replace most of the oil with pumpkin puree.

  4. Brandis @ crunchy thrifty cool

    I’m sorry that I offended, and I didn’t intend to sound bitter. But I was expressing my opinion, and I stand behind it. I’m not bitter about or towards homeschooling or those who choose to do it, but sometimes I don’t agree with the reasons for it for exactly the reasons I state. If we are all entitled to our opinions why do I get flamed for expressing mine? I do think it is important for us to look beyond ourselves and our families to improve our “village” instead of hiding from the problem.

    1. Brandis, I don’t think you got flamed–at least that isn’t the tone I heard in the replies to your comments. (Well, maybe the comment about sounding bitter, but not the others.) I think there is a difference in parenting philosophy in play here. Many who homeschool do so because of their belief that parenting their children is their responsibility and not anyone else’s. They don’t subscribe to “It takes a village…” They subscribe to “It takes a family…” Parents who feel so strongly about their parental authority are not going to take a stand that to them would seem hypocritical and try to interpose themselves on dictating choices for other people’s children. So someone who is working her tail off to give her children the best possible education and upbringing that she can probably won’t decide one day to go over to the public school, where she has no right to be since she doesn’t have students there, and start telling people what they are doing wrong and how these other people’s children need to be raised and cared for. Do homeschool parents still support public education? Sure–they pay for it with their taxes every day. But the majority of them aren’t going to step in and become public school activists. Also, without children in the schools, they probably little idea what is even going on over there. So if you don’t see a flock of homeschool moms down at the school board offices protesting the cafeteria meals, please don’t think they don’t care. They just probably have their hands full getting three nutritious meals plus snacks on their own table while running their one room school house on their own.

  5. I think part of the problem beyond the lack of quality and variety of food prepared in school cafeterias is the eating environment. Often kids are served food through a lunch line on divided trays and sit at long picnic style tables or tables and chairs surrounded simply by their peers. The adults either stand and walk around, sit at a completely separate table or at the very end of the table. If food was served on real plates with real silverware and children and adults ate at the same tables and food was served family style then perhaps there might be some changes in how kids eat. I understand that family style meals pose some sanitary issues but it really does make a difference it how kids eat.

    I am very glad that my daughters school serves lunches in the classrooms in a style similar to family style and the teachers eat with the students. They use glass plates, bowls and real silverware and every child is responsible for washing what they used before it is run through the dishwasher to be cleaned and sanitized. I can’t say that their menu is perfect but I definitely think the eating environment lends it’s self to encouraging better eating habits as does the farm to school partnerships.

    1. Celine,
      Wow! I’m totally impressed by the lunch arrangement – are you in America or elsewhere? Public or private? what a wonderful way to practice real life responsibility!
      🙂 Katie

      1. She attends a Public Montessori Magnet School. I am sure that the Montessori Philosophy plays a big part in why they do things this way. The kids are involved in many aspects of their classrooms from class gardens and animals, preparing snack, to cleaning and doing laundry.

  6. I think that part of the problem is that there are many different opinions on what constitutes a “healthy” lunch. For me, homemade buttermilk bread (1/2 whole wheat), with avocado spread and turkey, with a side of raw fruit and a glass of milk is a good, healthy meal for a child. But many people think that healthy meals should be low fat, (but often high in veggie oils), low salt, and low calorie. A typical “healthy” meal for them is mainly grain based or potato based, using “diet” or low calorie items with a few tasteless canned veggies on the side. In some ways, I would argue that a slice of pizza loaded with real cheese and a lot of veggie toppings is better for a child than things like a baked potato with no butter or sour cream.

    Children need protein and fat in their diets, and people often (wrongly) assume that a low fat diet for an overweight adult is also best for kids. They have already switched tiny tots to skim milk at many day care centers, which is totally inappropriate for 3 year olds. We might end up doing more harm than good by trying to make school lunches “healthier”.

    1. Molly,
      You raise excellent points – who’s to say what is “healthy”? The USDA? A vegetarian or primal eating family would vehemently disagree with the Food Pyramid/MyPlate or whatever it’s called now. As would I.

      I guess I chose to focus on vegetables because (I don’t think) anyone vilifies them and everyone wishes kids in general would eat more of them. I hope veggies can be our common ground for school lunch…

      🙂 Katie

  7. Nicole via Facebook

    For me, school lunches (depending on the menu ) are a good option. We’re in Oregon, and while the foods are “kid foods” they are made with healthy -ish ingredients. Plus, a veggie/fruit bar every meal. I have very picky eaters, so eating healthy is a work in progress. Seeing her peers select veggies seems to help her put an extra carrot or two on her plate. We pick the healthier lunches and combine them with lunches from home.

  8. you said “Although we can’t get all the kids into the cafeteria kitchen…”

    why not? we get all the kids into the library and the gym. we get all the kids into the bathrooms, not all at one time of course, so i’m sure we actually could get all of the kids into the kitchen.

    one thing you might want to think about for your activism, is including more cultural diversity in the foods. the SAD is, after all, american and while we’ve managed to export it to most countries, those countries also still have traditional foods that are much healthier and tastier options. maybe one day per month a menu could be featured from a different country (and tied in with social studies). then that meal could be included in the regular rotation and eventually there would be a range of healthier meals offered.

  9. Deborah Jennings

    You know, too many children are brought up on junk food anyway. I didn’t eat lunch at school except on Fridays. Hamburger day. But I did eat everything on my burger. The rest of the time, what they served wasn’t worth eating. No seasonings at all. Just open a can and heat it up.

    There are nights that we eat a veggie supper. No meat. Or have a big salad with all the vegetables in it. With a little cheese, and ham or chicken or turkey. I’m the chicken and turkey eater. DH is the beef eater.

  10. Please do more research on the story about the 4 year old “forced” to eat chicken nuggets. The child was invited to get milk, misunderstood, and got a full lunch. The media has blown this out of proportion and KS readers deserve better than half-truths. (And why I sometimes question the information shared here).

    1. Julie,
      I checked my copy – I did not use the word “forced.” In fact, I was quite careful not to, as I didn’t want to share mistruths. I read 3 news articles about the story, which I actually heard about first here: http://www.thehealthyhomeeconomist.com/big-brother-is-checking-your-childs-lunchbox/ (you won’t like her all-or-nothing take on it, either). So I did my best – I have not seen any stories on the milk vs. lunch part of the issue, and I apologize for not being newsworthy.

  11. As a registered dietitian (RD), I completed part of my supervised internship in a school district nutrition department here in Colorado. It was a jaw dropping experience! Did you know ketchup counts as a vegetable?! The lack of “real food” and use of individually-plastic-wraped-steamable entrees was really discouraging! This is what students on free and reduced lunch programs (a high percentage in the district I was in), are being fed five days a week! No wonder obesity continues to rise among lower income children!

    The other dietitians working in the department were not under any illusion that the entrees provided were the healthiest options out there. They were frustrated and stressed by the limitations of their budget, requirements for reimbursement by the government and their desire to see more of the lunch eaten. School lunch is another example of the conundrum created when our government takes control of a service and then makes the rules for said service. Much of the problem comes back to Big Food lobbyists, especially in the corn and poultry industry. Corn byproducts wouldn’t be so cheap, and I assert that they therefore wouldn’t be used so often if corn weren’t subsidized by the government. It is indeed a huge problem and one that will be most effectively tackled by concerned private citizens with nothing to gain from Big Business.

  12. This is such a big question. There is so much to consider that I will definitely be thinking about this for a while. My kids aren’t school-aged yet, and while I do plan to homeschool (food having very little to do with that decision), as an American, I know there need to be changes or health care costs will be beyond astronomical. I just checked our school district’s breakfast menu and found funnel cake, low-fat chocolate chip muffins with animal crackers, strawberry pop tarts, and more along those lines. That was the elementary school breakfast.

    A couple things that keep popping into my head: when I taught in a city district, most of my students only ate at school. There are some districts even discussing offering dinner as well. I have trouble imagining parents teaching their kids about fresh produce when their kids aren’t even eating at home.

    The other thing is that there is a huge disconnect between people and food nowadays. I’m sure Jessica Simpson wasn’t alone thinking that her tuna was chicken. I wish more people cared about where their food came from, but referring to the prior thought, some people are simply caring that the food is coming period.

    Well, sorry this is long with no conclusion, but thank you for giving me something else to think about and do. Something needs to change; our kids deserve better.

  13. Susan via Facebook

    Katie, I am thinking you and I need to have a little talk about homeschooling your kids….I mean you are doing a noble thing by caring and trying to affect school lunches, but you are not going to change the leviathan…..

  14. Emily @ Random Recycling

    I’ve never heard of the Chicago School project with the antibiotic free chicken, but it’s brilliant. I grew up bringing brown-bag lunches to school so I plan to do the same for my kids. Plus I don’t want anyone telling me that french fries and ketchup count as vegetables.
    I also think serving veggies with some healthy fats, like olive oil or ranch dressing is perfectly ok if that gets the kids to eat them. It’s more important for them to get the variety of vitamins in to them than not eat them at all.

  15. Alexis via Facebook

    Tonya do you live in Huntington wv? I just recently watched that show. And Sarah I think that sounds like a good idea. Less food waste. Maybe fight against picky eaters too.

  16. I have been a very fortunate momma, my kids love fruits and veggies! Even at a young age they would choose an apple or an orange over candy! The only thing i can contribute is that we’ve always fed them everything we eat, we always practice the taste it twice rule (every time, just in case young taste buds have changed, and they do!), and we presented it in fun ways- broccoli is trees, etc. Now that my kids are older (13 and 10) they typically eat their veggies first and usually ask for seconds.

    I say all of this because eating habits start at home. My kids eat their veggies provided by school lunches, and my middle schooler will often opt for two types of veggies (fresh with dip as well as the cooked). Even if they don’t like them they will still eat a couple of bites because I’ve stressed to them the importance of why. I think your idea of talking about nutrition with the kids WOULD work. Even young kids can learn how nutrition effects our bodies (it makes your muscles grow, it’ll make your brain smarter).

    I also think its so important that we as parents be more involved. So many parents complain about things, but look at me like I’m crazy when i DO something about it. Those are OUR kids there, not the state’s. We have organizations such as the PTA so that we can work together to raise our children. Just like voting when shopping, no change will come about if we don’t make it happen

    Sorry I’ve been so long winded! I never post, but this is obviously something i feel passionately about! I, too, opted to keep my kids in public school (rather than homeschooling) because i feel we need to improve the system for everyone, not just our own.

  17. Oh my gosh! I feel so oblivious sometimes to what is really going on in the school systems. I so appreciate your posts….and Sarah’s! Our children attend a private school with no lunch service so all of their lunches need to be packed. They pack their own lunches and started around 6 – 7 yrs old. I made them a pictorial lunch chart so they could learn how to do it. I shared a post about it with a link to the PDF chart on my blog. I thought you might like it: http://www.nourishingmeals.com/2009/05/packing-healthy-school-lunch.html

    I loved reading the link about the child who had her lunch taken away and was forced to eat a hot lunch. It sounds like Michelle Obama is getting some big bucks from the food industry….this is so unfortunate!

    1. Ali,
      Did you actually read a news report on the so called “forced” lunch? She did not have her lunch “taken away”, they gave her a school lunch in addition to her lunch. She ate part of the lunch and took home her packed lunchbox. They did not force chicken nuggets into her mouth. I’m not saying what they did was right, I think it is ridiculous, but propping up false versions of the story does not help the cause.
      As to your out of place, baseless, snarky comment on Michelle Obama….well, you have every right to like or dislike the current president, but what does that have to do with the topic? Michelle Obama is encouraging parents and schools to provide fresh vegetables and to allow kids time to move around (you know, recess). She is also encouraging businesses to provide fresh produce for sale in current “food deserts”. Sounds like what this blog promotes.

      1. MaryEllen,
        I had not read the report when I commented earlier, only the link posted above to a not completely true version. I am so very busy that I do not have time to read all of the current news. I understand what happened now. I have nothing against the Obamas. I am sorry that my comment offended you.

    2. Ali,
      My jaw is scraping the keyboard at what your lovely daughter packed by herself! Wow! We barely have time to get my son to comb his hair in the a.m. – if I try this, it would have to be an after dinner task. Still – I’m super impressed that you have all those foods available to her and she can reach them and prepare them. Wow. I have trouble thinking what I’ll send with Paul each day beyond “yogurt.” Thank you so much for sharing that link!

      As for the politics, I’m sorry another commenter pulled out the mean words for you. I’m like you – I don’t get to read the news unless I bump into it on Twitter, so I’m not even sure if Michelle Obama’s work is the right direction or not. I just know that schools are being built without playgrounds, so something’s got to change!!

      Thanks for dropping by…. 🙂 🙂 Katie

  18. I totally agree about working vegetables into the main dish instead of serving them as a side! We have some meals in which our first-grader insists on having his vegs served separately (and then in some cases he’ll eat them, and in other cases he’ll only take one tiny, grudging bite of each variety of veg, but at least he does the latter without protest) but he’ll eat many soups, sauces, etc. that include vegs as well as meals like Red & Green Pockets where vegs are the main focus. Recently he yummed down a plate of fried rice that contained a large amount of finely shredded cabbage; with plenty of egg and seasoning, I don’t think he even noticed the cabbage was there.

    I’m appalled by the story about the child’s lunch being replaced, especially because it says a “healthy” lunch MUST include a serving of meat. Is no one allowed to be a vegetarian?? Are non-vegetarians never allowed to have even one meal with beans or eggs instead?? At my son’s preschool, the meat products were the scariest part of the menu (low-grade, highly processed, “Mama, the other kids had nuggets today that were gray inside and smelled like dirty towels!”) and I would have been furious if the school had sent home his beans and fed him toxin-laced meat breaded with GMO soy and HFCS instead!!!

    Engaging kids with food preparation and educating them about healthy food choices makes a big difference, in my experience as a Girl Scout leader and in my observations of the effect of the school’s Edible Schoolyard program on my child. Often when I talk with other parents, it seems to me that the reason their children will eat only a few (mostly less-healthy) foods is that they started into parenthood with the assumption that children need to be fed separately and will eat only a limited range of foods; if you demonstrate that expectation, kids are likely to fulfill it! And if you put the responsibility for their food choices on government lunch police instead of teaching kids WHY to make healthy choices for themselves, you’re setting them up for lifelong troubles maintaining a healthy diet.

  19. Sarah via Facebook

    I think you are so right. When I went to elementary school they would have an lunch lady stand by the trash can. If you didn’t eat enough of your lunch you had to sit back down and eat more. You missed recess if it took you too long to eat. But not eating and throwing it away wasn’t an option.

    1. I don’t support having a lunch lady police if children eat enough. I think that it’s demeaning, and could cause serious problems for children who have food issues (I have a daughter with MAJOR food issues, and if you have never had to deal with that, you are very blessed-I guarantee she would come home every day miserable if she was in that situation). When my children are away from me they should eat what they feel is suitable, although perhaps it might be different in a situation where the adult knows the child well (they are being watched by one of my friends or are at a daycare).

      I think a better solution would be to do as Katie has suggested and incorporate veggies into the main dish, and to institute a compost container (they have a compost container at my husband’s University cafeteria! Awesome!). My daughter’s school has a garden which the children use for education and then those foods are used in the cafeteria; composting would be the next logical step in science learning and economy.

  20. These are great ideas- it is such a huge problem that so many people discount for one reason or another. I blogged about it a few weeks ago when I saw the news story about the girl you mention HERE. Everyone complains about how awful school lunch is, but no one wants to pay to fix it.

    And I am going to take what you said about homeschooling a little further… because it really annoys me that whenever someone tries to open a dialogue about school lunch or snacks at school and 75% of the response is “well, that’s why I homeschool.” Great for you and your kid, but how does that help the 99% of kids who DON’T homeschool? We need to let go of this mentality that we’re only responsible for ourselves and everyone else is on their own, which is one of the myriad reasons I won’t homeschool my kids. Why avoid the problem when you can work to fix it for everyone? No, they won’t end up with a perfect experience in a public school, but odds are good that they won’t end up with a perfect experience in a homeschool setting, either.

    1. @Brandis,
      I feel what you voiced about homeschoolers in general is unfair and biased. As a homeschooling mom I choose to devote my time and energy to educating my children and caring for them. I do not have extra time to spend caring for everyone else’s children simply because I am at home with mine. How you raise your children is your responsibility and how I choose to raise mine is my responsibility. But I don’t see the need for the condescension that was evident in your comment.
      You have your myriad reasons why you choose not to homeschool your children and I have a myriad reasons why I choose to. But I believe as we are all adults, we can all learn to live harmoniously even though our opinions differ. It isn’t a matter of one side being right and the other being wrong. It is a matter of doing what we feel is best for our families. Which is what is at the heart of this entire post. Painting homeschoolers in a derogatory manner is off topic and unnecessary.

    2. Brandis, I think when homeschooling moms reply to this topic, they may have a different perspective than you do. For me, making sure that my kids eat right is a parenting issue, not an educational issue. It’s not that I don’t care about other people’s children, I do. But I don’t think it’s my place to correct other parent’s food choices for their children. I don’t think it’s the job of public schools to “fix” kids nutritionally. Yes, they should offer healthy meals. But it is not the school’s job to make sure each child has a balanced diet.

      I disagree that people who homeschool don’t care about other children. Perhaps we simply think it’s best to let other parents raise their own kids as they choose. I don’t think not homeschooling makes you a bad parent AT ALL. It’s what works for us, but sometimes “regular” school is the ideal situation for a family, and homeschooling would not be best for that family. I think most homeschooling parents feel the same way.

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard any of my friends imply that people who use public or private schools must not care about their kids. In fact, most of us have made use of “regular” schools at some point in our children’s lives. I think we just have the perspective that it is not our place to “fix” other people’s bad parenting choices (i.e., junk food).

  21. Tonya via Facebook

    My kids will usually eat vegetables in soups, stews and chili. But when Jamie Oliver tried to serve a nice stir fry at a public school, they decided the amount of vegetables in it didn’t count as two servings of veggies. Their solution? Add french fries to his lunch line! Arrrgh!

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