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!