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reaction to proposed school lunch changes

Posted by on Mar 29, 2011 in Blog Posts | 15 comments

Ellyn Satter has done a lovely piece with her reactions to the changes coming for school lunch programs. Of several great quotes, here is one I really liked…

“Stop being so data-resistant with respect to what school nutrition programs can accomplish. As demonstrated by huge, highly funded interventions, tight controls on school menus leave children’s overweight status unchanged. Children apparently compensate elsewhere for restrictions at school.”

I too had many of her concerns, after helping summarize the Proposed Rule to align National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) with 2005 Dietary Guidelines (link to the summary is in ellyn’s post linked to above.) (Boy, even only reading a chunk of that report was painful!) I’m all for a variety of great-tasting, wholesome foods going to our kids. Hey, if we can use local produce, even better. An area I found disheartening is that the stricter guidelines, with tighter calorie and fat and sodium content will push schools to rely on more and more processed foods. In our effort to micromanage micronutrients, I fear we will be serving processed foods that taste horrible. Serve another 1/2 cup of steamed, bitter broccoli and you’ll get most kids just throwing more of it away. Hey, if some industrial food giant can make a pre-packaged, pre-processed food product that has the exact # of grams of X, Y and Z, that will make menu planning, and compliance paperwork that much easier! And, if they can make the product cheap, they can even make a nice little profit to boot! The report made several references to “more processed” foods (though they also seemed to think schools might do more “from scratch” and didn’t explain the inconsistencies, or provide funding for more kitchen equipment etc…)

Check out this blog for photos of the prepackaged products served for lunch at one school cafeteria, and why it makes me afraid, and a little nauseated. It looks worse than airline food. The blog I linked to is called Fed Up with School Lunch, and has lots of photos and reviews of less-than-appetizing meals.

What are your experiences with your school’s lunch program? (The above link to Ellyn’s site has the our full synopsis of the changes, and an email address for you to voice your concerns…)

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  1. Restless Native

    Poptarts and Fruit Loops for breakfast??? Personally, I would be better off skipping breakfast than that. When I eat cereal/milk only–and not really sugary cereal, either–I’m so hungry by 9:30 than I’m well and truly distracted. If you’re going to offer breakfast, bring some protein.

    I guess I was lucky, but our school cafeteria food was pretty good especially in elementary and high school. It was also largely made from scratch daily. I remember things like baked chicken, rice or mashed potatoes with gravy, lasagna (not as good as mom’s but certainly edible), pot roast, ham and cheese po’ boys, pizza that was made on big sheet pans but wasn’t bad, chicken pot pie, turkey and dressing, homemade mac and cheese with real ham in it or on the side, grilled cheese and chili, vegetable beef soup with cornbread, etc. All bread and rolls (dinner rolls and po’ boy rolls and buns) were made daily by the cafeteria ladies. We’re in a heavily agricultural county and many of the veggies were locally-produced, though very often frozen for out-of-season consumption. Oh, and we never had anything but real butter because the government was heavily subsidizing our dairy farms. I can remember complaining about margarine at home!

    Having said all that, I’m sure it’s crystal clear that I really miss the days of mostly scratch-made, usually hot lunch for schoolchildren. We could get back to that if we wanted to. Childhood obesity be damned, they need the nutrition and the fuel! They are GROWING CHILDREN. I also note that we are apparently worse off even with all the reduced-fat food than we were in the 70’s, and I suspect that’s also more complicated than kids just making it up later, too. My daughter (13, 8th grade) sometimes buys school lunch and sometimes takes lunch from home. She prefers home lunch to eat, but says that her buddies fall on her lunchbox like wolves when she takes it. I can afford to send double sandwiches and sides for just so long!

    I really don’t completely understand how this became such an issue, anyway. It’s just lunch, people! A quick glance at the headlines tells me that the government has far more important things to be worrying about. This isn’t about free or reduced lunches. It’s wrong-headed government intervention.

  2. Ines

    Katja, to play the famous (or not?) devil’s advocate I think it IS a good idea to want to increase the amount of fruits and vegetables and whole grains in food offered at US schools. This is positive. However, the issue is that the proposed guidelines do not include a PLAN on how is this going to be accomplished. Maybe there is money allocated (it was taken out food stamps) but, you are right, the proposal doesn’t include how are schools going to pay for the extra equipment and food. Furthermore, there is no plan on how are they going to deal with the lack of flavor in food because the sodium content is so low.

  3. DeeLeigh

    It’s so weird to me that people find this surprising. Didn’t you ever eat the school lunches when you were a kid? Remember the canned vegetables, canned fruit salad and breaded mystery meat (Salisbury steak, was it?) that we had back then? Remember how the best lunch of the week was a nasty piece of very white-bready pizza with a vile tomato sauce, cheese that didn’t taste like mozzarella, and greasy pepperoni? This stuff looks really similar. So, nothing much has changed. Big surprise there.

    I usually packed a lunch, but sometimes I ate the school lunches. They didn’t taste very good, but they were filling and a was able to concentrate for the rest of the school day. Poor quality food is better than not getting enough to eat.

    • Anne

      I agree, when has school cafeteria food ever been that great? I haven’t been in a public school for 25 years and what I remember most about high school lunches is the pre-dressed salad, you know iceburg, shredded carrots and Italian dressing – where by the time you got it the lettuce was transparent from soaking. Though we did occasionally have spinach pies that were awesome (and probably healthier than a teen would want to admit)

      My son’s school has lunch service, but I always pack his lunch – combination of him being fairly picky and me being too cheap to pay $3.50 a day. The better quality is a side bonus 🙂

    • katja

      i only ate packed lunch until 3rd grade, then I was in a private school from 3-8th. We had family-style hot lunches with meat, starches, veggies. It was all so lovely and civilized. My fave of course was the fried chicken patty sandwich day! (Ranch dressing, I am noting a theme…) It was nice bc they pretty much had the how and what down there…I was really lucky I guess. High school I packed all the first 2 years (OK, my Mom did) and then 4/5 days the last two years I packed, but I emjoyed sneaking my sophomore friend out (crouched in the back seat of my Fiesta) for onion rings at BK!

  4. Shaunta

    We live in a really tiny town (1500 people). I have a daughter in kindergarten. Here is a typical school-supplied breakfast: one Poptart, milk and juice. On the first day of school I stayed with Ruby through breakfast which was a bowl of Froot Loops, milk and juice. To a room full of five-year-olds. Yikes. I feed her at home now, but it’s difficult for her because ALL of her friends eat breakfast at school–every single one. So she has to play alone while everyone else eats. Sometimes I’ll compromise and feed her at home and then let her get the breakfast if it’s something less sugary than a Poptart. Sometimes they get a granola bar, for instance. Ruby is also the only kid in her class that brings her own lunch. So far that doesn’t bother her because the school food is pretty gross. (It’s also really expensive at $3 a day. Nearly everyone gets free or reduced and the rest of the kids who don’t have family incomes much higher than ours. We’re in the middle.) Also, she has a little bento box and the other kids think its cool. But I can see where with an older kid, it might get really hard.

    • katja

      poptart,fruit loops, milk and juice? OMG, I would be starving 30 minutes later! How about a boiled egg? Or a scrambled egg or a ham sandwich, something balanced… As you show, there does need to be improvement in the meals, but I fear an “enhanced” pop tart, with protein powder and less sugar, and some more jam thrown in for the fruit, oh, and some whole wheat thrown in…

  5. Lillian

    I compensate for deficiencies. We all do. Our bodies have homeostasis; in our words, we self-regulate. We eat the calories our bodies need unless we have restrictions placed on us. If we don’t get the calories we need, we feel hungry and want to eat more. We get enough we are satisfied. Children, especially, young children will eat only as much as they want, no more. They will complain if they don’t get enough. It’s that simple. If children don’t get enough to eat at school, they will eat more at another time. I have teenage son that complains that he doesn’t get enough to eat with school lunches. You can’t trick a child’s body into thinking less is more. Our bodies are smarter than a government school lunch program.

    • katja

      what does your son do? Is he allowed to bring snacks. Terrible feeling to not have enough food…

  6. Lisa

    Blessedly, the school my daughter will be attending in the Fall for Kindergarten has no lunch program (it’s a small private school) and so we will continue to send lunch with her like we are doing right now for daycare. Once a week they can get “take out” from a local eatery and since the school is in an old Italian neighborhood the choices are actually excellent.

    Re: Ellyn’s comment: “Children apparently compensate elsewhere for restrictions at school.” Is this just a guess or is it backed by data? Because maybe it’s just that ‘calories in, calories out’ is too simplistic to explain why kids are not losing weight despite fewer calories at lunch.

    • katja

      i think she attached articles. I read studies specifically about reduced fat, and off the top of my head, the reduced fat lunches were, like 30%, regular was 35%, and the kids comnpensated, meaning the kids who ate reduced-fat lunches ended up eating more fat out of school so that the total difference in intake per day was almost identical, and there was no difference in BMI. Again, improving school lunches is a wonderful goal, but there are better ways of doing it, and if weight loss is the driving motivator for “improving” lunches (not good-tasting real foods) then I believe we are bound to fail on many counts. Does that make sense? Same for studies on removing soda from schools FYI, there is almost no difference in consumption. Not that kids should drink soda, but if you’re removing them to try to get kids skinnier, it hasn’t been shown to work so far.

      • Heidi

        And completely leaving aside the compensation issues, what about kids who *can’t* compensate – who depend on school meals for their daily caloric intake. Reduce that intake, and those nutrients, and those kids don’t have the resources to compensate for it elsewhere and their nutrition suffers as a result.

        Appalling on so many levels :/

        • katja

          I agree. The calorie levels seem low if that’s your main meal of the day, and not getting seconds? Come on.

      • Lisa

        Yes – it does make sense. It’s really miraculous in a way (unless you are freaked out by fat/weight) how our bodies will take care of themselves, huh? Especially growing bodies with brains that need lots of fats to grow. Thanks for the added details 🙂