Thursday, March 18, 2010

School Lunches

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 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 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?


Sarakenobi said...

it's so frustrating (i don't have elementary school stuents!) to see how much people are hating on the lunches our kids are getting at school but no one is doing anything about it. you are right -- what o you do if you can't afford it? I mean, I know that my weakness in school was pizza day and it was the only time we got hot lunch! but i remember it being a piece of pizza, green beans an a fruit cup. however, when I hit HS? i could get hot lunch, but we had a subway kind of place, pizza place, burger/hot dog and a big candy bar. and pepsi machines.

Eri said...

I've eaten at our school with Nathan before and hollllly crap I was shocked. For one, they serve a pile of heapin food and oooodles of choices. Fresh fruit and raw veggies are always available. Nathan of course, while not quite up to Gabe's pickiness level, is viciously picky about food and every day for lunch has the same thing that I pack him: peanut butter sandwich, fruit, juice and peanut butter crackers. Sometimes he has milk instead. I was surprised (but pleased at the school for being on top of it) that the school sent home a notice at the beginning of the school year that children are *not* to have pop in their lunches. It was a bit of a well duh moment, but obviously some people don't pay attention to the crap they're putting into their kiddos. Anywho, have you seen Dan Cummins talking about the mom who feeds her kid just the marshmellows for breakfast? I'll have to find you the link.

Totally OT but your blog hates me! It won't let me comment :D

Witkowski Family said...

Erica, that's AWESOME that the school offers so much good stuff; I am not sure why anyone would think it was ok to send soda to school with a child??

Sara-did you go to school in Michigan?

erin said...

Ha! You beat me to the punch with this post :) I added this link to my blog yesterday, but haven't had a chance to post on it, yet! I'm fascinated by this!

Witkowski Family said...

Erin, I'm alternately fascinated and disgusted by the whole thing; I was reading an article yesterday about Michelle Obama's new program and in it, they said 42% of schools do NOT offer fresh veggies or fruit with their lunches at ALL. WTH? Can't wait to see your post on it!


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