Want Healthier School Lunches? Eat Outside
Eating outside is a privilege enjoyed by too few students on sunny days. Granted that most schools do not have the capacity to equip an entire lunch period's worth of students outdoors rather than indoors, but perhaps it is time to add it to the equation of health and nutrition when it comes to school lunches. Whether students bring or buy their lunches, teachers and politicians always have something to complain about while offering unsatisfying solutions.
Studies have shown that spending short periods of time out in the sun without sunblock is good for absorbing vitamin D. Cafeterias may sell milk, which offers the same vitamin, but certain lobbyists even want to take that away from them (or at least the chocolate variety). Everyone thinks they know what's best for children these days, but how many of them actually have a clue? Also, considering the current economic climate, certain districts have had to give in to what is popular in order to collect more revenue. For instance, the school district in my hometown is offering pizza as a school lunch twice a week because everyone knows that it is by far the most popular meal of the week (it was usually limited to Fridays or whatever day ended the week if there was a holiday); of course it's usually served with salad as well. Many college campuses have student centers in addition to cafeterias that hold chain fast food restaurants, not all of which serve food that is completely nutritional. It's all about the money. Speaking of money, I must bring up the controversy that school candy fundraisers cannot be transacted during lunch - as if it took away from the school's business when clearly it would not (seriously, you can't even check your inventory without getting yelled at, just like if you're under eighteen and you're shooed away from a carnival lottery game just for looking in the direction of the tent). Go figure.
Then there is the war on bag lunches brought from home. Either the parent knows what is best for their child to bring for lunch or the school does - no one can agree. How many times have you tried to eat a sandwich at lunchtime and some cafeteria-nazi hovers over you and tells you that lunchmeat is bad for you and will give you cancer?? They say the same thing about all the electronic devices we spend most of the day interacting with, so what are we to do? If we're going to get cancer either way, I'm going to enjoy my sandwich, thank you! It seems to me that the only things that matter to people in charge aren't always the health and well-being of their students but money and the power to tell others what they should and should not eat. Politicians aren't any better, and even those that do have the children's best interests at heart are often thwarted by those who don't want to be bossed by imposed federal standards whether they're right or wrong.
If you want a healthier sandwich, they say to add lettuce, tomato, or (non-processed) cheese. If you want a healthier dessert, add less sugar (or at least use natural sugar). If you want to promote a healthy lunch environment, provide opportunities to eat outside. Not only is sunlight a source of vitamin D, it also helps improve people's moods (look up Seasonal Affective Disorder or try living through a week of nothing but rain and clouds in the forecast). While sunlight shining through a classroom window may be seen as a distraction, especially if you have students who seem to do nothing but sit and stare out the window, it may actually do everybody some good in the long-run. In my personal experience, a classroom without sunlight is not an ideal learning environment, and the same can be said for school lunches.