Saturday, August 25, 2012

The Great School Lunch Debate.

I've been hearing a lot this past week about the changes in school's lunch menus. (Check out Sarah's post at This Farm Family's Life or Katie's at Pinke Post and a SUPER FABULOUS post by Annie at Morning Joy Farm) In case you don't have kids in school the lowdown is that FDA is revamping public school lunch regulations. You can read the USDA School Lunch Guidelines and suggested before and after menu suggestions by clicking on these links. I also found a very good on Fox News about the monetary strain some schools are facing due to the new regulations. Basically school lunches will be forced to have less sodium, more whole grains and more fresh fruits and vegetables if they want to receive federal money. Our school has a new salad bar this year that the kids can go back to as often as they wish but no more seconds of the main meal. Yes, last year our kids could go back for seconds. I NEVER got the chance for school lunch seconds when I was growing up! 

The school lunch changes probably won't be making much of an impact on my kids. I've been packing the boys lunch for the past two years, most days. They sure don't want to miss school pizza day though! When they were in kindergarten I did push the idea for a couple reasons. First, I NEVER liked school lunches growing. I thought they tasted awful. But I ate them, every last bite. I was an athlete in high school and was starving by the time lunch came around...and was usually starving after I'd eaten...and starving till I got home after practice. And I came from a home where food was never an issue. I always had plenty of food to eat at home and there were leftovers but as an active teenage athlete I needed a LOT of calories! I don't ever want my kids to feel hungry after lunch so I'll pack as much as they'll eat. 

Second, I've worked hard getting my kids to eat more fruits, vegetables and less processed food and if I pack their lunches I know what they are and aren't eating. I know my kids probably aren't going to eat green peppers but I have no problems feeding them carrots and cucumbers five days in a row if that's what they WILL eat. 

Here's my boys' lunches for the first two days of school which are pretty standard. As they grow though I'm sure what we pack will change. 

First day of school. Milk, homemade whole wheat cinnamon rolls, frozen pineapple juice popsicle, cucumbers and carrots, roast beef on toothpicks and string cheese. 

They picked the platter clean. Except for the milk, for some reason they don't like drinking the milk I send but they'll drink school milk. 

Day Two, Salad, string cheese, boiled eggs, pretzels, whole grain mini banana muffins, apple and water. They opted for cheese and water instead of milk. 

When they were in kindergarten I tried to send hot lunches in thermoses and wrapped in aluminum foil to keep it hot. Those tricks never work! A warm lunch was always cold by the time my boys unpacked it. Considering there isn't going to be a microwave available for my kids to heat their lunches we've just stuck with cold lunches. Some other favorite foods for lunch are kiwi, peanut butter and honey sandwiches, banana smoothies, almonds, broccoli and more. 

I don't have any problem with the new lunch changes considering we've always packed a lunch. But I do agree with Katie over at Pinke Post and Annie at Morning Joy Farm; these lunch guidelines are not going to provide for the needs of all kids. Some kids, especially high school athletes, are going to need more calories and protein and fat. Remember, I starved in high school...I know those teenagers are probably hungry! 

I have heard quite a bit of grumbling around our town about the changes, especially from the high school kids and their parents. Lunch will only be 850 calories and there's a lot who believe that just isn't enough. (I don't know why considering an average adult daily caloric intake is 2000 calories. If the kids eat breakfast and dinner it shouldn't be a problem for the average kid!) But here's the thing. I don't think that it's our school's responsibility to fill up our kids. Yeah, they are required to provide a nutritionally balanced meal but our schools are SCHOOLS not restaurants. If a parent doesn't agree with the food their child is being served, pack them a lunch. Or better yet, help your child pack their own. 

I also have a big problem with the idea that these FDA regulations are going to solve the obesity problem...or even make much of a dent in it. Our children eat 730 meals a year (365 x 3) and they only eat about 180 meals at school. What kids eat at school is less than a quarter of the meals they eat in a year. Providing kids with healthy, fruit and vegetable school meals is wonderful BUT (in my opinion) it isn't going to solve the problem of childhood obesity. What we do need to do is change the buying and eating patterns of PARENTS. Monkey see, monkey do. Kids are not going to be eating healthier at home if the only thing they find in the cupboards are highly processed, high sodium foods. I believe that the biggest influence on a child to eat healthier (or do anything for that matter) will be at home. 

To really get kids to change their eating habits, we adults are going to have to explain why lowering sodium and increasing whole grains, fruits and veggies (AND healthy FATS and proteins) are better for them than processed foods. And we adults are going to have to eat that way too. It doesn't have to be a big long lecture but the conversation does have to repeated every once in a while. No, kids aren't going to turn down every sugar filled dessert they ever come across but if you provide them with the knowledge of why eating healthy is important they will respond. I have one son who refuses to drink sodas (insert my cheering face here) and another that picks apples as his snack over anything else. That doesn't mean we don't have the occasional cookie and cupcake but my boys have learned that those are the sometimes snacks and they feel a lot better when they fill up on fruits and veggies. 

I think the FDA regulations changes are great, because there are those kids in this country who's only meal of the day does come from school and it should be a healthy one. That's a sad, sad fact and I wish I had a solution for it but unfortunately, feeding children shouldn't be a school's responsibility. Teachers have already had to add the role of Parent to their loooooong list of duties, Cook shouldn't have to be added as well. 

What's your opinion? Are there any major changes at your school? Where do you stand on the FDA's changes? Do you know of a good article that addresses this issue? If so, please drop a link in the comments! 


  1. I agree, people keep asking teachers to do more and more "parenting" and then wonder why the American education system is loosing ground... Health issues are the parent's responsibility in managing.

    1. Thanks for the feedback. It's nice ti know that there is someone else who feels teachers and schools are being overloaded with non teaching responsibilities.

  2. Personally I like the change, for us. From what I've been seeing/reading there is actually more food being served, and it's healthy stuff instead of some of the crappy food many (but not all) schools served before. Either way though, as long as we have the freedom to pack a lunch for our kids if we want to (even if it's a supplement to their school lunch) I'm happy.

    1. I agree! I know there are plenty of schools out there doing a great job. I had read someone's post (somewhere) of kids home packed lunch being taken away. How on earth could a school justify that?


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