It's been in the news all over the place; revamping public school lunches. They are laden with fat, high fructose corn syrup, artificial ingredients and colors, and they are slowly killing our children.
I recently discovered a blog written by an anonymous Illinois teacher about school lunches at her school Fed Up With School Lunch I started reading and looking at the pictures and was appalled. Are children REALLY being served this crap at school?
For those who don't know, before having the kids, I taught. I worked in a public school district for a year (never again) and then the private Montessori sector for many years. The lunches at the public school were pretty gross, but at least were prepared on site (Gabe's school trucks in lunches, twice a month for "fun lunch" otherwise there is no hot lunch at the school) The alternative to the hot lunch was bringing your own lunch which a lot students did. Some of them had actual lunches: sandwich, fruit, veggies, maybe chips or pretzels, juice and/or milk. Others were sent to school with a bag of Cheetos and a mountain dew (wait, what? YES, Cheetos and a mountain dew for an elementary aged child. Not a small mt. dew either, the liter size, not a small bag of Cheetos, but a LARGE family sized bag, for one small child) As bad as those lunches were, it was even worse when parents would bring in fast food every.single.day for their children. I was pregnant with Gabe and would literally gag because of the greasy smell coming from the office.
After public school I went to a wonderful, small private school where our menus were planned according to the continent we were studying and the children had a hand in participating in making lunches. We had all sorts of wonderful, fresh food. My old boss could cook collard greens like nobody's business and one of our parents was a former cook from Poland who made us the most amazing soups once a week and would also make kraut and sausage (which I craved when pregnant with Bits but cannot stomach now) homemade treats, and other lunches from scratch. We had teachers from different countries who'd make us traditional dishes from their countries and we always had fresh fruit on hand for anyone who wanted it. On more than one occasion, I brought in venison, processed by my father, to make dishes for the kids.
My final school (and thankfully the one I spent the least amount of time at) was another private school who trucked in their lunches. It was, in a word, disgusting. Lukewarm food, bland tastes, and barely nutritious. They had good snacks, for the most part, yogurt, string cheese, whole wheat crackers, but their lunches were sorely lacking.
Is there any wonder our children are failing in schools? In some school districts, the only meal some children get in a day are the hot lunches the schools provide them...and we're giving them a hot dog, cold veggies, lukewarm fruit in heavy syrup, and a chocolate milk? Is there a doubt in anyone's mind what is wrong with the system? How in the HELL are children supposed to learn with crap in their system? Never mind, that if this is the ONLY meal a child is going to get and they don't eat it because it's not appetizing, you've defeated the purpose of a hot lunch program.
Of course, the other option is packing your child's lunch each day and that's all well and good, for those who can afford it. For families living close to the edge, packing a lunch is just NOT going to happen. There's no extra money for anything, let alone to pack a lunch when they can get free food at school.
What can we do about it? Obviously, a change is not going to happen overnight, but it can happen. We need to, as parents, stand up and demand better for our children. We need to stand up and demand better for OTHER people's children as well. Gabe will be bringing his lunch every day next year because they don't offer lunch AND because he is the world's pickiest eater, but that doesn't mean MY responsibility ends there. In case you haven't noticed it, I believe that it takes a village to raise a child; just because MY kid is fortunate enough to eat a good healthy lunch doesn't mean others are. Never mind that if someone in his class is eating that crap, doesn't feel good and isn't performing up to standard, Gabe suffers as well.
What can you do in the meantime? Go to school with your child and have lunch; if you aren't pleased, write a letter to the school. Still not good enough? Go to the board. Get involved with your schools' parent government. Pack a lunch for your child with extra fruit/veggies so he can share with a friend who might have no choice but to eat the hot lunch at school. Ask the teacher if you can send an extra bag lunch for a child at school who eats the school lunch, maybe you could organize a luncheon once a month for the kids at school(or just your child's class) made with ethnic foods or locally grown foods. Ask your child/ren what they are eating at school, ask them what they like, what they dislike. Talk about good nutrition at home-sometimes foods, anytime foods, the whole bit.
The possibilities are endless...you just have be willing to actually DO something, not just sit back and bitch about it and expect someone else to do it. If not you, then who?