Tag Archives: school lunch

Health Crisis in the Cafeteria

There are two conditions in this country that will eventually cripple our economy and destabilize our entire way of life.  They are diabetes and obesity.  They are invariably connected and it all starts with our children.  We have a responsibility to teach our children how to eat healthy and this begins with schools and what they serve for breakfast and lunch.

Below is a real example of an elementary school lunch being served currently in Southern Illinois.

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Pizza Is A Vegetable!!!

Hooray! Thank goodness for this news. I must admit that when I saw this piece of news, I was excited.  I have always wanted to be able to eat pizza guilt free. And now I can, right!?

Congress is now saying that pizza can be classified as a vegetable in school lunches.  Earlier this year the Agriculture Department proposed new regulations that were supposed to limit the amount of potatoes and change other foods that were allowed into school lunches.  A final revision of the bill has removed these limits and has included allowing 2 tablespoons of tomato paste to be counted as a vegetable.  Originally, the bill wanted to include 1/2 a cup of tomato paste as a serving of vegetables, but this is too much to be on a single serving of pizza.

Companies that produce frozen pizzas for schools, the salt industry and potato growers requested the changes (surprise, surprise).  Food companies who have fought the USDA standards say they were too strict and neglected the nutrients that potatoes, other starchy vegetables and tomato paste do offer.

Specifically, the revisions in the bill are listed below.

  • Block the Agriculture Department from limiting starchy vegetables, including corn and peas, to two servings a week. The rule was intended to cut down on french fries, which some schools serve daily.
  • Allow USDA to count two tablespoons of tomato paste as a vegetable, as it does now. The department had attempted to require that only a half-cup of tomato paste could be considered a vegetable — too much to put on a pizza. Federally subsidized lunches must have a certain number of vegetables to be served.
  • Require further study on long-term sodium reduction requirements set forth by the USDA guidelines.
  • Require USDA to define “whole grains” before they regulate them. The rules would require schools to use more whole grains.

It baffles me that limiting starchy vegetables is a point of contention.  First of all, they shouldn’t be classified as vegetables.  It gives them credit as health food where no credit is due.  Secondly, corn is not a vegetable! It is a grain.  Period.  Thirdly, it is a proven fact that high levels of starch in the diet lead to poor health outcomes.  It has been linked to everything from heart disease to Alzheimer’s.  Why are we continuing to allow it in our school lunches?

The answer is short and political.  It has everything to do with money and lobbying power and nothing to do with what is actually in the best interests of  the health of the children in this country.

By allowing tomato paste to be classified as a vegetable it essentially makes pizza a vegetable.  Where else are children going to get tomato paste in their school lunch? Pizza is already too prevalent in school lunches.  I remember when I was in school pizza was served everyday as an alternative to the planned meal available AND it was the main meal served every Friday.

Below is a quote from the American Frozen Food Institute:

“This agreement ensures that nutrient-rich vegetables such as potatoes, corn and peas will remain part of a balanced, healthy diet in federally funded school meals and recognizes the significant amounts of potassium, fiber and vitamins A and C provided by tomato paste, ensuring that students may continue to enjoy healthy meals such as pizza and pasta,” said Kraig Naasz, president of the American Frozen Food Institute.

‘Healthy meals such as pizza and pasta!?’ Did I read that correctly? Obviously the American Frozen Food Institute is not in the business of trying to help people be healthy, but I can’t believe Mr. Naasz could write that statement with a straight face. He might as well have said the sky is green! That would have been just as true as his statement on healthy foods.

The lobby power of big industry groups like the one above is too great and their interests are only in preserving their share of the market to make money. I wish people in Congress would take some initiative and vote for what they believe is right for this country and not based on a powerful lobby group that only has their interests at heart.

Whose interest does the American Frozen Food Institute have a heart? Perhaps a quick perusal of their current Board of Directors will provide some insight:

Michael Allen
 – Kellogg Co.
Paul Bakus
 – Nestle Pizza
Larry Cope
 – Clear Springs Foods Inc.
Paul A. DiGenova
 – Pinnacle Foods
Greg Evans
 – McCain Foods Ltd.
Brian Folkerts
 – Kraft Foods
James E. Matthews, Jr. – 
H.J. Heinz Co.
Paul L. Palmby
 – Seneca Foods Corporation
Joan Menke-Schaenzer
 – ConAgra Foods Inc.
Jeff Varcoe
 – The Schwan Food Company
Robert E. Ashmun
 – National Frozen Foods Corp.
Peter Cokinos – 
Little Lady Foods, Inc.
Andy Dahlen
 – General Mills, Inc.
Wesley Eubanks 
- The Pictsweet Co.
Stan Firestone
 – Firestone Pacific Foods Inc.
Steve Lezman – Tropicana Products Inc.
David E. Moore
 – Superior Foods
Bobby D. Ray
 – Haliburton International Foods
Joe Pacinelli
 – Better Baked Foods, Inc.
Steven R. Windh
 – Windsor Foods
Dave J. Yanda
 – Lakeside Foods, Inc.

Now are we really surprised they would lobby to have healthy foods removed from school lunches? Above are members of the largest junk food companies in the world. It’s criminal that we let our government be run by special interest groups like this.

Another part of the problem is that some will read the above statement by the America Frozen Food Institute and actually believe pizza and pasta are wholesome, nutritious meals when nothing could be further from the truth. We need better education on what is healthy and what is not.  Until then, special interest groups like the American Frozen Food Institute, the grain industry and the potato industry will continue to guide what we feed our children in schools.  You can bet they won’t be asking to include more vegetables anytime soon.



Filed under Diet, Public Health

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.


Filed under Diet, Public Health