Friday, August 31, 2012

The Great School Lunch Debate

Red, White & Blue Fruit
I honestly had not given a lot of thought to the changes being made to school lunches until the past week when I began hearing more about it as kids trickle back to school.  All summer as I heard reference to the new "healthier" meals being required of school cafeterias, I thought "well great - less processed foods is a good thing".  End of story, right?  When the paperwork came from my daughter's school last week to complete for those who qualify for free and reduced lunches, there was very little reference to the USDA requirements and no explanation about what that would actually mean in terms of changes to what my child has access to for meals.  Then the commentary started rolling in from bloggers, the news, my friends...about the details of the changes...and I started checking things out for myself.
Ziploc 1-cup containers or snack bags and condiment containers
make letting the kids help pack lunch so simple.
When my daughter was in kindergarten, we packed lunch every day.  But she was so busy that she didn't eat much of the lunch I sent and the days I did allow her to choose a hot lunch, she eat so much better.  So we decided the past couple of years to go ahead and do the hot lunches.  For the first two years, there were no issues.  There was always a good variety and plenty of access to fruit and vegetables and we packed a healthy snack for her.  She was allowed to get seconds of anything as long as everyone had been through the line if she was still hungry.  We never had complaints.

Let the kids make their own fruit & yogurt parfaits for the week
by putting out fruit & yogurt and letting them build using
Ziploc 1-cup containers. Fill snack bags with granola, cereal
or pretzels for a crunchy topper they can add at lunch.
Because our daycare is a part of the public school system, they are serviced by the same food services as the rest of the schools in the district.  The menu is mostly the same, but appropriate substitutes are made for the toddlers and infants.
Greek Maple Peach Crepes
During the school year, my daughter goes to before care at the daycare and receives breakfast there, then she is bused to the school.  She gets there early enough to eat breakfast there if she wishes.  At daycare, the food is included in my fee.  At school, it comes from her food services account.  Obviously, if its a normal breakfast, she doesn't need to eat twice.  However, last year there were some days, she was eating at both places because the options were limited to a breakfast bar or donut and a piece of fruit and she was still starving but was not allowed seconds and either place.  I didn't figure this out until her teacher mentioned that her food services account was low and that she had been eating breakfast at school after getting off the bus for daycare.  My son seemed to be fine and was not complaining, but then, he was still in the toddler room and at the time, they were allowed seconds of whatever they wanted.
Zippy 15-Bean & Ham Soup
We discussed it and looked over the breakfast menu (which is not usually sent home like the lunch menu is) and I gave the Princess the option that once a week she was allowed to eat breakfast at both if she really needed it.  That way I could be assured she wasn't just eating twice because she liked the donuts but that if she was truly still hungry then it was OK.  I started making sure there were options at home to grab on our way out the door in the morning if the kids woke up starving too since there is almost 1 1/2 hours between when I drop them off at daycare and when they are eating breakfast.  I also started packing a bigger snack for their morning break.
Pot'o'Gold Chex Mix
I realized there were some deficiencies in the breakfast options but really didn't think lunch was much of an issue.  My daughter had a couple of times complained about being limited from seconds on entrees and about breakfast options sometimes basically being limited to a breakfast bar and piece of fruit with milk, but I could generally associate that with growth spurts in times when she was basically hungry all the time anyways or with days that she hadn't liked what was for dinner the night before so hadn't eaten much.  She also got a snack at daycare as soon as she got off the bus at daycare so I figured that was probably fine until she got home for dinner an hour or so later.
Strawberry Pretzel Parfaits
Then came this summer and I noticed that both were attacking the pantry at home the second we were in the door or immediately stating they were hungry when I got there to pick them up.  All summer, I have chalked it up to growing kids eating everything in sight - and no doubt, at least part of it is that.  But that's normal, right?
Olive-Lovers Sandwich
Then I began reading about the changes in the measurements used to control the portion sizes the kids are consuming at school and I realized why the kids have been starving all summer.  I thought about things the kids had said about not being allowed seconds of entrees and realized that with only 2 ounces of the entree, it was no wonder they were starving.  Especially if the entree at breakfast is a cereal bar and lunch is 1 ounce of turkey (that's like 2 small slices) and 1 ounce of cheese (1 slice) on a tasteless sub bun with some carrots and an apple.  Let's top that off with a couple of graham crackers for an after-school snack.  Yeah - that's about as exciting to a child as it sounds to me right about now...and filling too, right?  I can tell you right now that if that was my day's food, I would have a major headache and be very dizzy and a total space cadet by about 2 p.m.  Let's not even talk about what my mood would be...
Chocolate Peanut Butter Honey Crunch Dip
My daughter is turning 9 and is almost as big as me (yes, I know, I have literally not grown since the 5th grade and I'm terribly short, shut up already...) so there is no way that is enough of the right kinds of foods to keep her satisfied and cooperative for learning all day.
Tortillas, chicken tenders, lettuce, cheese, ranch & salsa = bit hit!
I hear a lot about obesity in America.  And no doubt, there are a lot of people who could stand to lose a few pounds and many who could stand to lose a lot more than a few.  If you take a look at obesity standards in the past, many of those who are called obese now would be considered in the normal category 20-30 years ago.  Take a look at many "ideal" female icons like Marilyn Monroe and you'll find that by today's standards, she would be in the obese category and many celebrities of today would have been considered too skinny.  What good does it do A young man I know who is in the military was told that he was obese and should lose some weight - this guy is solid muscle and has exactly the kind of physique all these muscle building and fat-burner commercials promise to deliver.  Apparently, if the scale says you are over on the poundage then it doesn't matter what your body make-up is.  As long as you weigh 100 pounds as a female then you are healthy - doesn't matter if you can lift a 10 pound weight or not.  
Cool Peas & Pasta Salad
I am all for healthy.  But I think healthy has a different definition for government agencies, pharmaceuticals, insurance agencies, clothing manufacturers, doctors, and others who can make money off that "obesity" label.  Not sure whose in charge of those standards but society seems to have bought into it.  And I won't get into that here but the politics and money behind the government, insurance companies, and other initiatives pushing the "obesity" label so heavily onto America are quite incredible when you get into it. Neither of my kids are overweight.  Both are active and are in skating lessons.  We are outside most of our time awake at home and on weekends.  I make large but reasonably healthy meals at home.  They rarely consume juice and pop almost never.  Snacks are also reasonably healthy - crackers, fruit, veggies, cheese, yogurt.  These kids are not living on hot dogs and Ho-Ho's, folks.  So why are they being restricted from eating a meal that is appropriate to their needs?  Why do we insist on trying to solve problems that are limited to a certain population by passing broad initiatives?  My kids were both considered overweight by the charts - really?  They just actually have muscles!

So, after considering all of this, we will be returning to packed lunches.  I will be checking with the daycare about options for the little guy because I know he is young enough that he has a hard time understand why he would be eating different stuff than his friends, but the Princess will definitely be packing.  My husband and I already pack our lunches most of the time and although we have access to be able to heat up our food, I invested in a thermos for the Princess to be able to take hot dishes like casseroles and soups with her as well.
Rustic Cheesy Potato Soup
Beef Ravioli with Artichokes
I'll also be making sure we have sturdier breakfast options at home that she can at least grab and eat somewhere along the way if the school breakfast is not hearty enough that day.
Strawberry Freezer Jam
Blueberry Oatmeal Muffins
I'll be sharing more lunch and snack ideas as we go along, but for now you can click on some of the pictures in this post to see past ideas and recipes that would pack well in a lunch bag or thermos.  I usually try to plan lunches around meals so that when I make a meal, I have enough leftovers to pack that night with a few items like cheese sticks and veggies with ranch to stretch the budget and make the most of my time.
French bread, deli chicken, ranch and colby-jack cheese - tasty sandwich that satisfies.
What are your thoughts on school lunches and the new changes?  If your kids are back in school now, what do they think?  I'd love to hear your thoughts!

1 comment:

Mindy Harris said...

i'm officially hungry now, april. growing up i went to a private small school so we didn't have lunch provided. so my dad always made us sandwichies!
following u from the naptime review monday mom mingle thing.