School lunches used to be simple things. A tuna sandwich in a brown paper bag or one of those cool, themed metal lunch boxes (I know — that REALLY dates me!), some chips, and an apple or a cookie sufficed.
No one worried about the fact that the tuna salad got nice and warm in our lockers between breakfast and lunchtime or that the chips were loaded with the “wrong” kind of fat.
But with obesity spiraling out of control in this country, especially for kids, it’s hard to take school lunches so lightly anymore. According to the American Obesity Association, the number of obese children between the ages of six and 11 has more than doubled since 1980 and for older kids between 12 and 19, it’s tripled.
I didn’t realize school lunches would become an issue for many parents in Rachel’s school, but it has and they want to be heard because they’re worried about their children’s health.
I was ecstatic when I found out that Rachel’s school provides a hot lunch everyday — no daily scramble for lunch money, because we just pay for it up front at the beginning of the school year. I had packed her lunch for three years in nursery school, so I was gleeful at the prospect of no longer having to come up with interesting lunch ideas! I could send her off to school every day, knowing that she would get some “good growing food,” as we call it, and not have to worry about her nutritional requirements again until dinner time!
But it turns out not everyone is so thrilled with the lunches.
While, on the one hand, it seems innocuous to let Rachel serve herself from the default bowl of pasta each day, turning her nose up at the featured selections and daily soup or sandwich options, there’s no doubt we could be doing more to find healthier options for school lunches that are appealing and tasty, and will start our kids on the road to being lifelong healthy eaters.
But how to come up with healthy lunches that six-year-olds will actually choose over spaghetti five days a week?
“The Naked Chef” Jamie Oliver has shown it can be done in the British public schools. And there’s another chef in San Francisco (whose name escapes me at the moment, but there was a New Yorker article about her a few months back!), who is trying to do the same thing, and doing it working within the public school budgets! It’s not easy, but it can be done.
In trying to appease parents, our school cut out the chocolate milk, banned processed chicken nuggets, and now makes the PB&Js on whole wheat instead of white bread. And that’s a good start. But placing some soggy steamed veggies on the plate isn’t going to entice our children to come over to the ‘dark side.’ I love veggies and even I don’t want to eat the ones I’ve seen placed in the center of the kids’ tables while I’m on lunchroom duty.
Of course budgets are limited, but why not commit to shuffle some dollars around? If there’s money for sports in school budgets, then there ought to be money for “good growing food.”
I don’t want to be militant, because it’s obviously our responsibility at home, as well, to help our kids learn how to eat in a healthy way and we shouldn’t count on school lunches for everything.
But schools need to step up to the plate (so to speak) and do their part, as well. It’s time to make school lunches a little more “naked” a la Jamie Oliver — simple, healthy and tasty.