Thursday, February 2, 2012

School lunch

Warning: this is one of those topics that will lead me up on my soap box.I'm apt to be long-winded.  Just sayin'.

A few days ago, The Stirrup Queen (aka Mel) had a great post about school lunches. And it made me start thinking about them, too. Now, we send the kid with his lunch to school every day. He's a pretty good eater, and so generally his lunch (like mine, hubby's and baby E's) consists of leftovers from the previous evening's dinner. Some days he comes home with an empty lunchbox, others it seems as though he's eaten nothing. Most of the time when it's relatively full it's because he was talking too much and not eating enough.

The other day, however, his lunch obviously hadn't been touched at all. As in, it didn't even look like he'd opened it. And so I asked. His response? He'd gone through the lunch line and had a grilled cheese sandwich, french fries and some chocolate milk. I groaned. And then realized it was time to have the discussion about why we send him to school with lunch, instead of through the lunch line everyday.

And it went something like this. "Kid, we talk a lot about healthy foods right?" "Yes, momma." "Can you explain to me why it's important for us to put healthy foods in our bodies?" "Yeah, it's because our bodies use food for energy and healthy foods make more energy than not healthy foods. Maybe you really should not feed me such healthy foods then I would be a little bit calmer." "While you may have a valid point there, mister, healthy foods also make our moods better and make us healthier for a long time. Also, you might not have enough energy to play with your friends or do your gymnastics classes if you ate not healthy foods a lot, right?" "Yeah, that's probably right and that would make my friends really sad." He's a riot that one is.

We then continued to talk about how the foods he'd chosen to eat at lunch that day were not healthy choices. And though it was okay to have not healthy foods sometimes, it wasn't something we wanted to do frequently. He agreed and was able to point out the not healthy aspects of his lunch, primarily that his lunch was lacking in fruits and veggies, and the high sugar content in his chocolate milk, as compared to plain milk. That's right, y'all, he knew all that on his own.

This whole school lunch thing, is a hot button issue for me. I am horrified by the kids of foods we serve to kids in schools. I am horrified by the things that are considered acceptable. French fries counting as vegetables. Poptarts being okay for breakfast. Nearly everything being so very processed, high in sugar, salt and preservatives. I know there are families and kids who rely on schools to provide food, but we're lying to everyone by trying to tell them that it's healthy or balanced.

 Many teachers and assistant principals (who are often the one handling the discipline issues at their schools) will tell you that discipline problems and referrals peak mid-morning, likely coinciding with sugar levels plummeting. You know, when that poptart - that was served with no protein or fiber to balance it out - starts to wear off. I think about my kid, with his sensitivity to red dye, and wonder how many other behavior issues are related directly to the foods we're serving our kids under the guise of being "healthy".

People claim children simply throw away the healthy options offered by schools. And I don't deny that happens. But, really, most kids, when given the choice between pizza and a salad will, at least most of the time, go for the pizza. However, if the pizza isn't an option? They'll eventually eat - even a salad. Or, make the freaking pizza healthier! I mean, I love school pizza as much as the next girl (probably more), but make it with real cheese, and whole wheat crust, and throw a veggie or two on there, and you have a much healthier product that kids are still likely to eat.

I realize there are cost issues. Seems like these things always boil down to money. But, I also know that by feeding our kids healthier foods, we have healthier kids who have fewer behavior problems (which saves lots money), we have kids with healthier bodies (hello major savings to us all through lowered Medicaid costs!), we have improved test academic test scores. See it's a win-win.

It seems like an easy fix to me. I know it isn't. Which is why we will continue to send packed lunches with the kid to school. Even though school pizza is awesome. And I'll continue to talk about the importance of all kids and families having access to healthy foods.

Today's lesson: Systemic issues sometimes seem like they have a simple answer. And yet, there are so many hands in those pots, many of them kind of invisible, that change happens discouragingly slow. So slowly that we're apt to give up because it seems impossible. However, if we're not willing to continue to push for the changes we know are needed, no one will.

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