Last week the principal agreed to meet with me regarding the lunchroom at his school. He was very kind and gracious, interested but not concerned about the topic. Apparently he’s been getting more flack about the waste that happens in the lunchroom (plastic going in the garbage rather than being recycled, amounts of food thrown out, Styrofoam rather than biodegradable materials, etc.) than about the nutrition that is or isn’t being found there.
I ascertained that not much of what happens in the lunchroom is under his control–the for-profit food service is contracted by the district, and the service contract lasts for 3-5 years. Horrifying, if you ask me. What motivates someone with a contract to do a good job, please anyone, or serve foods that are healthier and cost more? Answer: nothing. (Unless there is a mob of unsatisfied, demanding parents…or no one buying the school lunches. And a lot of those of us who get reduced/free lunches brown-bagging instead. That MIGHT send a message…)
The principal was surprised that there is still strawberry milk being offered in addition to the white and chocolate milk. When I told him in detail what was offered as “fresh” the day of my visit, he intimated that my suspicion that the healthiness of the offerings that day might have been “stacked” since they knew I was coming could possibly have been a correct assumption on my part. Hence, I am making more unannounced visits to get a real feel for what is or is not being offered on a “normal” day.
I flat out asked him if he gives a rip what goes on in the lunchroom, or if he thinks the teachers or parents care about this issue. He definitely pointed out the power of parents and making sure they are in the loop and educated. I get the feeling that he is indifferent on the matter, but wants to stay informed.
In my mind, a “win” looks like this. Chocolate & strawberry milk gone. The food service big time healths up how they prepare and serve their foods. (Incorporating fresh, local meat & produce to support Michigan’s economy would be a dream rather than opposed to the current reality of having food trucked in from all over the country) This would allow parents like me to sing the praises of the school hot lunches, how healthy they are, local, how easy it is for parents not to have to shop for, prepare, package and send in daily healthy lunches, and how much more cost effective the school lunch program is. (It costs approximately double PLUS the times it takes you to shop for, prepare, package, and send in your child’s lunch than what it does to purchase the school lunch). In return, the food service makes more profits because more kids are buying the school lunches, and local growers are being supported as well. The ultimate winners–everyone. Kids are well-fed healthy, nutritious, portion-appropriate hot lunches giving them the best opportunity to learn and grow. Parents, instead of being slave to “one more thing” in their busy schedules, are freed up from the time it takes to shop for, prep & pack daily healthy (cold) lunches. (Bonus–also cuts down on a lot of the waste that is happening in the lunchrooms. THAT might make the principla sit up and take notice.) Food service is happy making profits and hopefully giving back into the general fund of the school as they are oft expected to do. Seriously–it would be perfect.
I’d love to see more than 2-4 adults in the lunchroom per 200 students doing a little more than just crowd control. Helping kids keep track of the 20 min kids have to eat, encouraging good eating habits and choices, etc. Trust me, as soon as I’m no longer doing fulltime childcare for my wee ones, I will be in the lunchroom in my cheerleading uniform championing the merits of carrots and apple slices to every child that goes through the lunchline.
My utopic dream will not likely happen. Too much red tape, too expensive, it’ll take forever for change to happen and be sustained. SO, the alternate plan will likely be educating parents on what their children are or are not being offered via the school lunch program, and how to shop for, prepare, and pack a healthy lunch and snacks. Classroom education for students to help make healthy choices would also be awesome.
Tomorrow I meet with the food service coordinator and their employed dietician to take a closer look at the nutrition and ingredients in the foods they are serving. I am prepared to listen, but from what I’ve seen I don’t believe they are doing anything but meeting the most minimal standards to keep their profit margins as large as possible.
To be continued…
Read about what happens next here