Thursday, April 28, 2011

School Lunches

I read a story yesterday about a school in Chicago that has banned home-packed lunches.  The children MUST take the lunches served at the school.  Here's the story:  SCHOOL LUNCH  I think the photo is eloquent.

The first eight years of my daughter's and five years of my son's education, they attended a school that did not have a cafeteria service, so school lunches were the ONLY option.  On occasion my son spoke enviously of friends whose moms brought fast food to them. I asked the principal about it and she said it was an occasional treat when that mom was pulling "lunch" duty.  That made sense to me.  If I had to take my children out for an appointment, I would similarly treat them to something exceptional like fast food. (Especially milk shakes).

But, because I packed lunches for years, I'm pretty familiar with what's available and what they will eat. Fortunately, mine are NOT picky.  They are both hungry by the time lunch rolls around, so if I pack it, they eat it.  Of course, they occasionally trade for food (strictly prohibited at their schools but I'm not stupid).

So, if the locals were to ban my kids' packed lunches, this is what they would be telling my kids wasn't "good enough."

Deli Meat (usually ham) w/dot of mayo and bigger dot of horseradish on wheat bread
Slices of red or orange bell peppers (she loves them) or edamame or celery
An apple, orange slices or grapes
Milk (those little long shelf-life ones)
Yogurt (if we have it) or a treat (this week it's two pieces of Easter candy. Small pieces.  I send two because she always has a friend who needs a lift)
Often, pieces of seaweed.  She loves it.

PBJ on wheat (used to be Sun Butter) x 2 (he's nearly 6 feet tall)
Orange slices or grapes
String Cheese or Hard Boiled Egg or both, depending on late his lunch is that day
Yogurt (if we have it) or a treat (this week it's two pieces of Easter candy. Small pieces.  I send two because he is the horse trader in the family. And he only gets a treat if he makes time to practice his trumpet before he goes to school. But I'm not legalistic about it.  Today he skated.)

Sometimes they get those small packages of Pringles or a handful of crackers of some kind. But we buy those very infrequently.

Interestingly, my son says the item that is the most 'high value' for trading is milk.  The water fountains are too far away, and kids hate carrying water bottles, so by lunch time they are desperate for liquids.  He also says the only kid he knows who brings soda consistently belongs to a teacher.  Whoops!  They can purchase bottled water (courtesy of the school system with its own logo) for $1.25 each.

You might notice my son doesn't take a vegetable. The easy one to take is carrots, but they make his mouth tingle.  At dinner however, I try to make sure he eats twice as many vegetables as anyone else.  And we ALWAYS have a salad at dinner and they ALWAYS eat some.  Okay, maybe not always, but 96% of the time.

There is the argument that the children in the story might live in a food desert, or without sufficient resources to make good choices.  I don't buy that.  The free and reduced lunch programs for kids in those situations are very generous -- we're only talking about kids who pack their lunches.

And that's the key.  The reason my kids' lunches are healthy is because I still pack them (yes, even for high school kids). They would choose what was quick and convenient instead of what might take 3 extra minutes but would be nutritious. Why? Because they're human beings, and most of us default to doing what is convenient rather than what is the best choice.

So, I guess the lesson for me, too, in my struggle to lose weight is that the few extra minutes to put together a healthy lunch is worth it.  Leadership by example and all that.

Final point:  I can tell you having left private school for public school, I am often dismayed at the implication the public school sends that "they" know MUCH BETTER how to raise my children than I do. This policy in Chicago is an example. And I'm dismayed at the number of parents who don't think they have any authority to challenge it!


The Bug said...

After eating in the school cafeteria a few times as a freshman I always packed my lunch. Now, granted, it was ME packing it so it was usually a sandwich & I can't even remember - Mt. Dew? to drink. I have no idea what I drank! Did they have Capri Suns in the early 80s?

What's funny is that I always LIKED cafeteria food, but I found the social aspect of eating in the cafeteria to be too daunting. I used to eat my sandwich in a classroom & read a book.

quilly said...

I have to tell you that it isn't the teachers making these stupid policies. It is the school board. The teachers would love to be allowed to teach and not police. Really.

Robin said...

So rather than simply banning junk food they now insist that children BUY food from the cafeteria? How amazingly patronizing and incredibly insulting to both the children and parents, to assume that they are incapable of making healthy choices - or even of making their own choices, whatever those may be.


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