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What’s for Lunch?

Ah, school lunch.  The memories those words spark – mystery meat, lima beans and the days we made a meal of a cookie and a roll.  We all have our school lunch horror stories.  Yet a great many of us send our own children off to school each day with lunch money in hand, trusting that they’ll receive a tasty and nutritious lunch. And it’s not entirely our fault.  In our district, all parents get a letter that specifically says:

 “Children need healthy meals to learn. *Name Omitted* County Public Schools offers healthy meals every school day.”  (Please, no comments about the grammatical error.  I copied/pasted.  Let’s be kind and call it a typo, shall we?) 

Well, I halfway agree.  Children DO need healthy meals, not only to learn, but to grow and form good habits.  As for the healthy meals offered by the schools and approved by the Department of Agriculture…well, that’s debatable.  Objection number one – Kids are picky eaters.

Yes, kids ARE picky eaters.  Case in point:  Garden salad certainly qualifies as a nutritious vegetable option.  How many kindergarteners do you know who are going to eat it?  It took me years of effort to get my kids to enjoy salad and to this day my 9-year-old has very specific requirements regarding the lettuce to “other stuff” ratio.  And I believe my kids are remarkably adventurous little foodies, so what about the kids who don’t have a freak mom stuffing lettuce down their craws…are they likely to chow down on that garden salad?  No, of course they’re not.  My kids will eat salad at home, but they’re not touching what’s served at school.  I have been told by my aforementioned gourmet of all things salad that “it’s just lettuce and cabbage.”  (What?) But garden salad is served on a regular basis. So I don’t accept the “kids won’t eat it” argument.  The schools are already serving food that the kids won’t eat.

On to objection two:  Processed food is cheaper and the schools don’t have enough money.  Also true.  I can’t argue with this and there’s no easy answer for it.  The first thing that pops into my mind is this:  I wonder how many parents would be willing to pay a little extra for school lunch if it were ACTUALLY tasty and nutritious.  I know I would and I’m not rolling in cash by any stretch of the imagination.  But it’s worth a little more to put nutritious food in my kids’ bellies.

So where does this leave me?  Packing lunches.  Packing lunches is not fun.  It’s one of the worst chores I have.  I would rather clean litter boxes AND toilets.  I’ve tried to pay my kids to do it, but they’re not having it, which should be an indication of how much we dislike packing lunches.  Neither one of my children is content with a ham or turkey sandwich.  I am not content giving them PB&J every day.  They don’t want veggies and I don’t want fruit roll-ups.  Every day is an exercise in creativity and compromise.  We’ve done chef salads, wraps, pitas, subs, etc.  We swear by 100% juice fruit cups.  We argue about raisins, goldfish and homemade snack mix. We don’t have it perfect, but at least I can feel good about what my kids are eating every day.  It’s mostly homemade, it’s wholesome and it’s nutritious.  And while I rarely manage to get any substantial amount of veggies in their lunch boxes, I also can not proclaim (as the school lunch menu does) “All lunches are served with bread and milk.  Pizza is served daily.”

Well, we have it worked out in my house.  My kids are allowed to buy lunch once a month as a concession to my craziness, but they rarely do.  When they do, the pizza has been reported as “bland” and (by my more descriptive child) “the crust tastes like cardboard and the cheese tastes like glue.”  They pack lunches and they stay within my guidelines and we’re all happy.  But what bothers me are all the other kids…most particularly the kids who qualify for free/or reduced lunch and truly rely on the school lunch program.  They deserve good, wholesome food, too and, by God, the schools should want to do better for all kids.  It’s SCHOOL.  While the kids are there learning math and reading, why not take an opportunity to teach them good eating habits, too?  I’ve heard of schools in some parts of the country making great improvements, so I know it’s possible.  I just don’t know how to get there.  I feel certain that the answer lies with the parents, but how can we lead a movement when there’s so little concern?

I’m not one to really keep my opinions to myself and what I find is that most people just aren’t that worried about it.  I get that, we all have our own battles to fight.  But let me ask you this…even if you don’t consider it an issue, wouldn’t it be nice if school lunches were better?  If you could count on your child getting a lunch that is nutritious AND delicious?  Don’t we need to give our kids better than what we had?

 I wonder what kind of message we could send if every parent at every school started packing their child’s lunch every day.  Wouldn’t that be powerful?  The kids would certainly fight it, but guess what?   The kids aren’t in charge and they’re not for a very good reason – they don’t know what’s best for them.  That’s our job.  Believe me, when I first laid down the law about school lunches at my house, my kids were furious with me.  They got over it and now they’re grateful for the change.

 So what do you think, parents?  Isn’t a change for the better worth making a few (thousand) ham sandwiches?  Do you trust the Department of Agriculture to know what’s best for your child?  I certainly don’t.  I don’t want my child served bread, milk and pizza every day at lunch.  I don’t want them eating those foul little processed chicken nuggets and those hamburger patties that bear only the faintest resemblance to beef.  I may not always give my kids the perfect meal, but at least I know what they’re eating and where it came from.

 I feel better for having gotten that off my chest, but I am realistic enough to know that I’m not starting a movement here.  Most of you probably don’t really care that much about it.  I’m not a revolutionary and I really don’t know how to change the world.  If I’ve made one person out there pack one lunch for one child, at least I’ve accomplished something.  I have to defer to the experts for the grand gestures.  Jamie Oliver, I bow to you, sir.  And I also cordially invite you to my town.  (Please come.)

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  1. Barb Strimple
    November 9, 2011 at 3:52 pm

    I so agree and am with you in inviting Jamie Oliver to our town. Compare to what we got for lunch in school and compared to now days it’s rediculous. But back in my day we didn’t have the processed meats and ready made foods our cooks in the cafeteria actually had to be cooks. Now this isn’t toward the cooks in anyway so don’t write me. The cafeteria staff can only work with what they have. Good job Shel.

    • November 9, 2011 at 4:09 pm

      True enough. I’m sure the cafeteria staff doesn’t enjoy dishing it out, either. We really need some change.

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