The School Lunch Nightmare

In my posts and rants I have often railed against fast food and large food companies for their lack of concern for America’s growing waist line.  Their deceitful marketing aside, these companies know who their target audience is.  It’s kids.  If they can get kids “hooked” on their food at a young age they know they’ve got a customer for life.

While these companies are a significant part of the problem, school lunches are also a large problem.  Millions of children eat school lunch every day.  Some even eat breakfast at school.  This could be an amazing opportunity to teach children how to make the right choices and what healthy foods can do for you.

Unfortunately, the school lunch situation in this country is awful.  Just about everything offered is junk.  It is highly processed, refined foods that provide calorie but little actual nutrition.  Not everyone can pack a lunch for their child.  While I believe this is the best way to make sure your child eats a nutritious lunch, some people just don’t have the time or the knowledge to do it.  After all if you don’t know what is healthy yourself, it’s going to be hard to pack a healthy lunch for your child.

This is where our school systems could step in and teach children about healthy foods.  Vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, protein and whole grains in the proper amounts.  The knowledge is out there and the systems to make this work are out there, but the vast majority of school systems are still serving the cheapest food possible in order to save a buck.

I know my high school was no different.  There were few healthy options and the main choices for each day were never healthy.  Below is the daily menu from my high school for the last full week in March (22nd-26th) and what the options were.  It seems to me that not much has changed since I was there in high school.

March 22nd
Pizza Steak or chicken nuggets w/ roll, curly fries, celery stick w/dip, chilled fruit or juice, milk choice.
March 23rd
BBQ chicken on a roll or chicken parm, potato wedges, steamed carrots, chilled fruit or juice, milk choice.
March 24th
French toast sticks/sausage or cheese steak, hashbrown stick, warm apple slices, chilled fruit or juice, milk choice.
March 25th
Nachos with fixins, or cheese burger, rice/corn, churro stick, chilled fruit or juice, milk choice.
March 26th
Pizza bagel or double dogs, french fries, tossed salad, chilled fruit or juice, milk choice.

Along with this there are several items that they have every day.  These were peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, soup, assorted pizza, assorted sandwich platter and assorted salad platter.

The problem I have with the above choices is that most of them are bad choices.  Yes, it appears that they are making an attempt to offer salad and fruit to the students.  The problem is no student is going to take it because the other junk is being offered.  Many might say that all we can do is offer it and it’s up to the kids to select the healthy meals.  This is problematic for two reasons.

For one, these kids have never been taught how to eat properly.  They may think they are making the right choices when in fact they are probably not.  Two, when is it ever a good idea to leave a decision up to a high school age child?  These are precisely the people who are known to make irrational and impulsive decisions.  That’s why they pay more for car insurance!

The only solution is to only have healthy options as choices (or send your child to school with a lunch).  If the only choices are healthy, children will have no choice but to choose correctly.  How about offering a chicken breast instead of chicken parm or stir fried vegetables instead of french fries?  I don’t think these are unreasonable options.

Yes, they are probably more expensive options but is that a bad thing?  Isn’t it worth it if your child is healthier and learns how to eat?  Remember, this is a high school menu.  For some of those students college is just around the corner, and soon they will have to be making not just lunch choices, but all meal choices.  Wouldn’t it be nice for them to have some idea of what is a healthy food and what is not?  I think so.

In my opinion, this would go a long way to help curb the obesity epidemic in this country.  Giving kids healthy options is the only way to fix the problem.  Kids don’t “need” sugary treats.  All too often I hear that from parents.  They tell me that their “son needs his treats,” or that “he won’t eat healthy.”  He’ll eat healthy if that’s the only option.  He won’t starve himself, I promise.  He’ll test you to see if you give in.  If you do, you can forget about him making the right food choices later in life.  Options are great, but they should be healthy options.

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2 Comments

Filed under Diet, Public Health

2 responses to “The School Lunch Nightmare

  1. Kristy

    You might find this blog interesting:

    http://fedupwithschoollunch.blogspot.com/

  2. WordPress led me to your blog as a possibly related post and I enjoyed reading it. I agree with you about options – they’re ok if they’re healthy options. Our options aren’t healthy and I’m finding that no one wants to hear about it. Keep up the fight.

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