Food service meeting

Inspiration— read about where it all began
Lunch Visit— the first step was checking out the school cafeteria
Principal visit–the second step I took in the process

I met with the food service provider a week ago. I stopped in and ate lunch with my son before the meeting and was thrilled to count 14 adults (including the principal) in the lunchroom as opposed to simply the 2 paid crowd controllers there the week before.

I’m still mulling over what I learned from my meeting with the food service and trying to figure out where to go from here. I have not yet checked the veracity of everything I was told in the meeting, I just took the information I was given as correct.

Here are a few things I was told at this meeting:

  • The school lunch program was begun by the government to fatten up American boys to send them to war. (Apparently, American boys were too skinny then…)
  • (In our district) every single lunch–even ones that families pay “full price” for are still subsidized in part by the government 25 cents per meal.
  • A food service compay is required to meet the USDA regulations for a meal. If they are audited and do not, they will lose their licensing and funding. (If I understood correctly, they are audited ONCE every 3 or 5 years.)
  • Michigan is an “options” state rather than a “serve” state. That means instead of the food service company being responsible to put all the required components of a meal onto a tray and handing it to a child (serve), our state is only required to OFFER HEALTHY OPTIONS. Kids are expected to serve themselves the healthy elements (dairy, fruit & veg).
  • The food service company is not supposed to charge (parents or the government) for a child’s meal unless it contains all the correct nutritional components. (BUT no one is holding the food service provider to this standard…they charge for every tray they hand to a child off the food service line and do not watch to see whether or not a child takes a milk or whether or not they serve themselves the proper amounts–or ANY fruit & veg from the food bar) 
  • There is no USDA guideline for the amount of salt that can/not be served to children.
  • The food service is required to offer 3 types of milk to the children. HOWEVER, it does NOT have to be 3 flavors. They COULD offer skim, 1% and 2% and still meet their requirements. Of course, they claimed studies that show that kids are more likely to drink flavored milk and it’s better for them to drink the sugary milk and get all the other good stuff than not to drink anything at all.

The food service dietician doesn’t agree with the USDA guidelines for the food they are required to serve to children (too much bread), but claims that they have to meet them in order not to lose licensing. When I asked about exceeding the guidelines, they mentioned their budget (remember, they are a for profit company) and inability to change from the recipes/foods/guidelines the government holds them to (because it would cost them more money to do so).

They are trying to do some good things–featuring local produce a few times a year (too bad school isn’t in session during the summer when most of our local produce flourishes), ordering whole wheat products when they are available, trimming the fat by using turkey instead of beef, offering vegetarian options etc.

The fact remains, SO MUCH of the food is processed, salt-ridden, and laden with preservatives. That food is cheaper to buy and easier to prepare. My eyes were bulging out of my head as I looked at individual components of their regularly offered meals such as the garden burger that has 900 miligrams of sodium–that’s before you even add things like cheese, a bun, canned peas & peaches, ranch dressing & ketchup or anything else. (I rarely serve my kids anything with more than 300mg of sodium)

SO, what now? I’m not really sure.

I’m making sure that I send top-notch snacks with my son to school–lots of fresh fruit & veg, nuts and healthy energy-sustaining foods. I’m bribing him to choose white milk every day by promising him something special in his lunch on Fridays–whether it’s a handful of dark choc chips in his trail mix or a sticker, it’s an improvement over the daily chocolat milk and a good discipline for future eating habits. I go overboard CRAZY when I hear about all the healthy foods he chose and ate from the food bar. I’m packing gorgeous lunches when he would rather not eat from the lunchline, and serving healthful meals at home. I’m also popping in to eat lunch with he and his classmates whenever I get a chance–getting to know the kids and spend time with them, helping open a milk carton or daring them to eat another carrot or apple. (Having a “let’s see who can eat their apple slices the fastest–ready, set, go!” challenge is quite effective)

I think I would be welcomed at a PTO meeting to share information with parents on how to pack a healthy lunch or how to help your child make healthy choices from the lunchline, but I don’t think too many parents or educators really care. I truly believe I’m in the minority. And I’m ok with that.

I’m not ok with the apparent “government regulations” that do not allow healthy, fresh, local foods to be served in the schools, but I’m not sure how to track down where things are broken in the system and how/who needs to fix them. When the WIC and foodstamp programs have already changed their guidelines to include only lower-fat milks (and NO FLAVORED MILKS ALLOWED), whole grain breads, fresh (even ORGANIC) fruits & vegetables and you can use every penny of your foodstamps for anything edible including plants at the local farmer’s market, I knit my eyebrows together and wonder whether or not the government and big business are just covering for each other on this one at the expense of our tax dollars and our kids’ health.

What do you think? What, if anything, should I do next? I know what you can do next, take a minute to sign this petition to make school lunches better. Then start an investigation into what’s going on in your child’s lunchroom. I’d love to hear what YOU find!


18 thoughts on “Food service meeting”

  1. We stopped school lunches. G- gets to pick out 2 for the month and we “splurge” on those. Otherwise it is brown bag city. Since she is at a private school with no kitchen her meals are even worse. They get them from McDonalds, the local pizza places, etc. Barf.

  2. Hi Jenna,
    I am the president of our PTO (also in Michigan) and I would love to have a parent come in and talk to the rest of the PTO (would love it even more if said parent volunteered to lead a committee on the issue). I think it is definitely worth talking to your PTO about!

  3. Thank you so much for doing this. I live in Ann Arbor and my husband and I have been very upset by the poor nutritional quality of the school lunches. (Just this week my daughter was given fruit snacks as part of her meal while fresh fruit at the salad bar was an optional item.) My husband has been exchanging emails with the school principal, but she doesn’t have control over the food that’s served. I’ve signed the petition, but what organization(s) should we address directly and/or locally? Thanks again for your efforts.

  4. This is a wonderful blog – you are not alone nor a minority – you are standing up for all parents who really do care about what our children are eating. We need to influence the USDA and stop this madness! Thank you.

  5. Their is a program believe it or not that has different guidelines of the food pyramid for schools to follow. I’m not sure what it is called, but it is at the end of “Supersize Me” the movie. Go to, than search for supersize me, fastforward to the end or middle i forget which. Either way I think you’d like the movie if you haven’t watched it already it’s very interesting. Anywho I hope this helps you out! I remember eating at school whene i was 12 and getting food poisoned quite a bit because of the hotdogs. That tells you something about school food. Also to let you know as well, private schools do feed kids better than public! I am saving all the money I can to send my daughter to private school.

  6. Great work! Thanks for being so engaged on this issue. I’d love to chat more with you via email. Please contact me. Would you like to do a guest blog post on my website?

  7. caught a blip of your website on Jamie’s website. I was just looking at his recipes. I too am so concerned about what our children are being served (or not served) at the school cafeteria. I watched and obsessed over Jamie’s show but really feel I’m too small in the whole scheme to make a difference. Where do I start in my own school? Will they even care or listen to me?? I need facts,I’m sure. I send my child to school with his lunch and usually he wants to eat pizza on Friday so I let him. I am not a nutition nut but I am very good about giving my 2 children healthy foods and staying away from crap food. Sometimes an oreo or 2 doesn’t hurt but not everyday. So, you have inspired me to look into the stiuation. We are Coast Guard and we move every 2-4 yrs so it’s daunting to thing I would be doing this everytime we move on. Until we have a nation that cares about what their kids eat, we will still have to work at it. Thanks and I really enjoyed reading you blog, I can’t read it al right now because my 2 kids are screaming! Gotta go!

  8. I am starting a new committee inside our PTA – Health & Wellness for the year 2010-2011. I have been in the cafeteria cutting apples for our kids…and I am appalled and have to do something.

  9. A friend of mine sent me your blog. We are in the process of changing our lunch program at our school. I am supposed to meet with our food service supervisor this summer. I pray that we can change things. I have a son who is going into 1st grade next year and as of this moment, he will be bagging it. I too feel sorry for those kids that are on the free meal program for this might just be the beat meal of their day and the school is providing junk. I am also on the P.T.A. and would love to have someone come out and talk about this problem. Keep up the good fight!!

  10. What I find most interesting about school lunches is that they are very similar to what was provided when I was in school in the 80s–I remember the pizza and french fry combo. The main difference is that very few people I knew actually purchased lunches and even those who did complained about the quality of food and found it disgusting. Now days, it is the norm–the vast population of children at my kids’ schools do purchase lunches and parents make judging comments that mine always brown bag it. I cannot tell you how often I have heard, “Is that all he is going to eat?” We pack according to servings and an eight year old doesn’t need three cookies and a huge bag of chips–especially at 10:30, which was my child’s lunch (brunch) time this past year. I am by no means a health nut, but the fact that I limit sugar is a foreign concept in the schools, something I find so very ironic. People complain about behavior and lack of attention, but has anyone really looked to see just how much sugar and preservatives these children are loading up on? And when I point this out, I am told that studies have shown that sugar doesn’t affect children–well, it certainly affects mine.

  11. As an elementary principal, I commend you for your efforts, especially in periodically having lunch with your child and his classmates! Your approach is positive and responsive. Taking the time to learn “why” will make positive change more efficient and timely.

  12. I have never allowed my children to eat school lunches because whenever I have checked out the menu for the month, it always seemed to be “fast food” fare (chicken nuggets, chicken patties, tater tots, burgers, pizza etc.) I don’t allow my children to eat that type of food at home so why at school? I always made sure their lunches were full of fruits and veggies and either 1% white milk, orange juice or water. I wish the government would realize that the school lunch programs need revising. We are a country struggling with a high obesity rate and offering our children healthier lunches at school would be a place to start.

  13. I agree with everything you said. I also met with the assistant director of food service for our district and heard similar information. I didn’t get the impression that a full-fledged effort is being made to make necessary changes for a healthier school lunch. Instead, it seems as though they say they are trying to make positive changes for appearances sake but maintain their hands are tied because of the dependence on government subsidies and financial limitations. Change is usually hard and requires an open mind and hard work. I don’t think there are enough individuals in these positions that are willing to take a hard and honest look at the choices they make which impact our kids lunch programs. They don’t like to admit that they’ve made mistakes or could possibly be wrong. Parents like us are trouble for them.

  14. I have a soon-to-be 5th grader. When she started kindergarten at the public school, we insisted she have school lunch (thinking it would be easier for her). However, she soon began complaining about how “yucky” the lunches tasted. I had lunch with her an realized why she complained. You see, I’m like you, and cook from scratch with fresh ingredients, wholesome foods. She wasn’t raised on the frozen then warmed up foods. She started bringing lunches from home in kindergarten. I recently purchase a bento box (japanese lunch box) for her so she can bring a hot meal from home. I also follow some of the Sneaky Chef receipes by adding vegetable puree to foods to kick up the nutrients, too. She LOVES her hot lunches and cold lunches. Give a look at the Ms. Bento box on Amazon; although more expensive than a cold lunch bag, I’m not willing to tell her to eat the school lunch just so she can have a hot lunch. Thanks for all your hard efforts. We have the same initiative going on in our school district, but my daughter will probably be out of high school before it’s “a great lunch program”.

  15. Hi

    I love love love what you are doing about school lunch. I am taking the first baby steps to do something myself. I am a nutritionist and also a student at IIN – Institute of Integrative Nutrition, NY – where I could actually totally picture you being a student too!!! Check it out!
    Well, just wanted to wish you good luck and keep up the good work. You have a beautiful family and you are an awesome mom!

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