School Lunches: Advocate For Better Choices
Why are school lunches still unhealthy?
Each month I get a school lunch menu and once again, I get fired up. I get outraged and angry. Frustrated. I would love to be able to take a break from packing lunches each day and be confident that my child is still eating something healthy at school. As for now, that's not happening.
Over the past few years, we've seen an increase in childhood obesity, as well as a rise in childhood diseases. They are eating more junk and becoming less active. Schools are suffering funding cuts and programs, like physical education, are lost.
Now, don't get me wrong, the parents are the first resource for their children when it comes to their health. It is the parents who have the power to focus on healthy eating and good activity. However, school is a child's work. It is where he/she spends a large majority of time, and therefore should be supportive of a healthy lifestyle too. Instead, the schools focus largely on academics and test scores, leaving behind the true foundation for proper learning, which is good health. When children are not healthy, they cannot learn social skills, problem solving techniques, or how to make friends. They cannot concentrate on a new math problem or ways to comprehend a short paragraph. They cannot muster up the energy to finish their homework completely and benefit from learning a new skill. It all boils back down to the health of the child.
What exactly are these kids eating?
Since there has been some "movement" in the recent years toward healthier school lunches, I have seen a few small changes that just may be a little bit positive. Gone are the Mystery Meat days at school, where some kind of slop was placed on your tray. Now, the words "Whole Grain" will appear on the menu, and some kind of fruit is usually included. That's about it though.
These menus are created by someone who must believe that they are smart. They obviously have to follow government guidelines to include a protein, a dairy source (since they are being funded heavily by the dairy association), a grain, a vegetable, and a fruit. Sounds good right? Look a little deeper.
A sample menu item that my kids bring home usually looks sounds like this:
Whole Grain Pizza, French Fries, Fruit Cup, Milk
While "whole grain" is much better than plain enriched white flour, it still doesn't make this lunch a very good choice. More often than not, the cheese on the pizza is imitation. Although I'm not a fan of today's dairy (due to all of the additives), imitation cheese is just as bad. Just what IS imitation cheese??? So the cheese and milk are your "dairy" as well as your protein, but I'm sure that pepperoni is on the pizza, which is also a protein, but filled with more additives and nitrites that will eat up your digestive system. All of those have no fiber, antioxidants, or anything really beneficial. Instead, we've just fed our child plenty of additives and chemicals.
French fries should not be counted as a vegetable, although it is noticeable here that it is counted as one. White potatoes are a starch and high on the glycemic index. They spike blood sugar levels, leaving a person wanting more food in a short period of time (or leaving them hungry for more). In addition, the fries were "fried" in some kind of oil, which generates unhealthy trans fats in your child's bodies. The fruit cup can pass, but we don't know for sure if the fruit cup is mixed in syrup or fruit juices. Usually it is the syrup, which is loaded with sugar. So, overall, I'm looking at a constipated, pre-diabetic, chemical-laden, early heart disease lunch.
Demanding more REAL vegetables!
Allow me to vent a minute:
Corn is NOT a vegetable.
Peas are NOT a vegetable.
French fries are NOT a vegetable.
Pizza is NOT a vegetable.
Ketchup is NOT a vegetable.
Okay, I feel better. Let me explain.
Corn is a grain. Often, in school lunches, it is put in the "vegetable" category. Unfortunately, the corn these days is genetically modified (a topic for another article). However, in the event corn is being served in lunches, children still deserve to have a real vegetable! Why not broccoli? Carrots? Beets? Parsnips? Cauliflower? And.....many kids actually LIKE salads if they would be given the chance to eat them!
Peas are a legume, part of the bean family. These are a protein source and should be treated as such. When peas are served, once again, another vegetable should also be given.
The fact that French fries are even included in the vegetable family in school lunches makes me want to hurl. The potato is completely devoid of any nutritional value, once it has been fried. In addition, like I mentioned above, it is more a starch, and has similar effects as a grain. When potatoes are served, again, a real vegetable should be served as well.
It has been debated by the "food officials" whether to include pizza and ketchup in the vegetable category, and many people's responses were, "ARE YOU SERIOUS?" Sure, pizza includes tomato sauce, but you really need a whopping amount of it on the pizza slice to even gain any antioxidant benefits. Ketchup, on the other hand, is mostly high fructose corn syrup. It serves no value.
Why can't we demand real vegetables in our kids lunches? Vegetables don't cost that much. If someone with brains can take a look at the funding and the school lunch programs, they would find that if they eliminated some of the extra sugary items and packaged items, they would save money. In addition, meat and dairy cost a whole lot more than vegetables. Why not have an alternative protein source that day, like beans? Kids love beans!
It takes a voice, many voices in fact to make this change. I've heard of petitions started and succeed. It is worth a shot. Do not be afraid to speak up and be the movement in your school. Personally, I plan to be a "voice" when my children enter their new school next year. Although I recommend packing school lunches as much as possible, I still fear those children who do not have that option from home. Many school officials will argue that it's either they eat what is offered at school, or they don't eat at all. Such a shame.
Don't give up hope though! But most importantly, don't wait around for "someone else" to do something either!