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School lunches are not the (whole) problem

What parents can do to make sure the mid-day meal serves their child well

by Meg D.  |  2209 views  |  2 comments  |        Rate this now! 

This year I have 1st grade lunch duty.  I have the dubious pleasure of watching 6 and 7 year olds eat junk food for 25 minutes. I walk around, I open milks and baggies of snacks, and I chant motivational eating-related phrases: "Munch, munch, munch your lunch, lunch, lunch!" Because I'm silly.  

Overall, I kind of like this time I spend with them every day.  I teach every student in the school, but the 1st graders I tend not to know as well as the students I've known and build relationships with for years. This year,  I knew every child's name by the end of the first week.  Some I know all too well.  But they're (mostly) darn cute, they're (usually) sweet and fun.

A recent piece on CBS Sunday Morning featured school lunches in France.  Holy boulliabaisse, are they amazing.  Fresh produce, home-made stews, nothing frozen, and the only thing fried is the broccoli florets, dipped in a light cream sauce. Likewise, Time magazine featured the nutritious gourmet diets of the preschool set of Paris.  Now, I don't expect fish-based soup and locally grwon roasted season vegetables, but all these good eats got me thinking about what my cute little American students consume for lunch. So I took note for a week or so.

Now, I'm a teacher, and I'm a parent, too.  But above all, I'm appalled.

Lunchtime: The average kid will come in, get their lunch from the line -- paying with a pin number that accesses an account that their parents deposit money into -- and "eat." Yes, there is goofing around, talking, shouting, throwing stuff, etc. It's elementary school lunchtime. The kids who are buying come back to the tables with their trays.

Today the lunch choices were:

    •    Grilled cheese, hot dog, or Uncrustables PJ&J (on white bread with the crusts crimped off)

    •    Tomato soup

    •    Whole apples or oranges

    •    Jack & Jill ice cream bar

    •    Milk -- chocolate, strawberry, and I think they have plain but I've never seen it on a kid's tray.

A somewhat balanced lunch has been offered here.  I'm sure it meets state standards.  Ketchup is not the offered vegetable, so already we're eating better than when "Salisbury steak" was scooped onto my own lunch tray, back in the Reagan days.

Among the population who bought lunch on this particular day, here is what was consumed by most:

    •    Half a hot dog OR three small bites of a grilled cheese sandwich

    •    Most of the ice cream bar

    •    Chocolate milk

    •    Half a bag of Doritos or Cheetos from the snack bar, purchased with the money that their parents deposit.

(I did see one taking a bite of the soup.)

Some parents are mistrustful of school lunches and their child's ability to select healthy meals from the menu.  What about those whose parents "care" enough to pack a lunch?  Two, exactly TWO 1st graders I have eat a healthy packed lunch every day.  One mommy sends dried and fresh fruit, a sandwich on whole wheat, and pretzels.  Another mommy actually sends *gasp* greek yogurt as her son's main course, because he's just not a sandwich kid. He added some strawberries yesterday.  Brilliant.

And in sickeningly sweet contrast, here is what one of my more average lovelies brought to school today:

2 comments so far...

  • My kids are pretty well conditioned to wait until after finishing their "real food" before eating any treat. They also don't expect a treat wth their meals. Still, school lunches scare me (they are not in KG yet). Once they see many other kids eating junk, won't they think that's OK? I guess only time will tell.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by SKL on 25th May 2011

  • I completely agree! I carefully pack my children's lunches, keeping the Canada Food Guide in mind. Then I find that the school puts pressure on the children to participate in Pizza Day - every second Friday! Also, over the course of two weeks, my children have gym class only three times. We, as women, spend so much money on diet products, yet we pay very little attention to the diets and physical activity of our children.

    Flag as inappropriate Posted by Gwen on 15th November 2010

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