Time for school lunches to get "naked?"

Mon, October 30, 2006


You know something is up with school lunches when a candidate running for student council president runs and wins on the ‘Bring Back Chocolate Milk’ agenda!

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.

Be Sociable, Share!

Related Posts:

9 Responses to “Time for school lunches to get "naked?"”

  1. CrankMama Says:

    Ahhhh the joys of school lunches… when I’m still reeling from trying to feed 5 people reasonably healthy dinners each evening.

    If, by the time my kids are in school, the lunches are even PASSABLY healthy, I’ll opt for them.

    I’m too tired to start another war :)

  2. Heather Says:

    We had a law pass last year that forced schools to take steps to improve the healthiness of the lunches. It even went so far as to ban fatty chips and snacks from being sold in the concession stand. ( I do, however, agree that many of the overweight children at our school are not that way because of what they consume while on campus.) To be honest, the kids have not noticed. All the bread is whole grain, and they are using less fatty ingredients. There still is chocolate milk, but it is lowfat. From a mother with one absurdly finicky child, and one that will eat anything that does not eat him first, I am happy for any kind of improvement. I do think there is probably a lot more they can do to “spice up” lunches. However, at least at my school, if it doesn’t come in institutional sizes, they’re not buying!

  3. Anonymous Says:

    Healthy lunches are important, no doubt, but crappy lunches are not why our children are too fat.

    Our kids are obese becasue we parents in America are, by and large, rather sedentary.

    Kids need excersie. Excercise and healthy food, plenty of sleep, and suffiecient hydration.

  4. jen Says:

    bravo, sister, bravo.

    it’s true and it’s silly and weird that we don’t make this a priority given all we know about health and kids.

  5. Steve Says:

    I know what you mean. Fortunately, my daughter is “odd”. Given a massive buffet table, she will opt for raw veggies with ranch dip. Her hot lunches are offered only twice a week and seem okay (pasta, shepherd’s pie…that sort of thing). I am surprised, though, that your daughter’s school serves peanut butter…my daughter isn’t even allowed to bring anything with peanuts. I mean, if she brings a small bag of trail mix, it’s like she’s carrying a concealed weapon or something.

  6. Lawyer Mama Says:

    Wow, I had no idea what I will be in for in a few years.

    Do any of you ever remember having a choice for your school lunch? When I was in elementary school if you got a hot lunch you got THE hot lunch. No choice was involved. On Fridays, we could have chocolate milk. Now it sounds like even elementary schools have vending machines. I agree that lunch alone can’t be the cause of the obesity epidemic, but I bet it’s not helping.

    I try not to be too paranoid about what my children eat as well, but I would like for them to have healthy choices.

  7. Steve Says:

    To lawyer mom….

    Not only do you have be concerned about the quality of their lunches, you really have to be careful if you have a boy. I have two and you will find that a boy’s natural aggression and near hyperactivity will be soundly discouraged in elementary school (for the most part). Whole curriculum (curriculi?) and styles of teaching are designed by and for females…especially at the elementary level. No lie. I know some may be offended by that, but anyone with a son can probably vouch for me.

  8. mad muthas Says:

    jamie oliver has his points, i agree, but he managed to alienate a good number of parents by declaring that anyone who had given their child crisps (i think you call them chips) in their lunchbox was an ‘idiot’ and that anyone who had given their child fizzy drinks or choc was something a good deal ruder! (see my post ‘i’m an idiot’). thing is, he has very young children – and can probably control every aspect of their diet. when his kids get older, he’ll have to recognise that being controlling is not necessarily a good thing! (anyway, he gave his kids chihuahua names – poppy honey and daisy boo – so who’s the idiot, i’d like to know?)

  9. PunditMom Says:

    Lawyer Mama, And I was excited to get that one choice for the hot school lunch, which I only got on special occasions. Otherwise, we were a brown bag family.

    Steve, I, too, was suprised that peanut butter is allowed, but at least so far, the kids in school who have nut allergies are not the ones who have a problem if they’re just in the same room. I’m sure that could change quickly.

Leave a Reply