School lunch: NOT the key to obesity

If anyone has been paying attention lately, there’s been some big changes announced regarding schools and the hot lunch program. It wasn’t anything done locally, so don’t take your school board to task on it, but it was done at the federal level…and I think that they definitely need to hear about it.

I don’t want to be stirring a pot here, but first of all, I think we all can fully agree that the school lunch program is in NO way responsible for the obesity issue in our children. In fact, I just heard another commercial yesterday that made the claim that school lunch is one of the only places where children receive a balanced meal (free, if they qualify).

So which is it? Is our school lunch a great, balanced meal, or is it making our children obese?

First of all, if we’re looking to blame schools for our weight issues, then we better not look at the lunch program and look instead at the rest of the day. Physical education, sports, dance, etc…all sorts of extracurricular activities and physically-demanding activities are being ignored and are losing numbers every year. Hours of homework take place of playing outside after school.

But again, aside from the homework demands, most of the influence on physical activity must come from the parents, not the school.

So let’s go back to the lunch issue. I’m all for expanding our children’s palates. I’m all for offering up greens, and reds, and pinks, and oranges, and browns. Pick a color, any color. Go for it! But there is so much that I don’t agree with.

For example, the calorie limit and how it’s set. I think it’s pretty obvious, but perhaps we need to spell it out. Children’s needs are different. I know, shocking revelation, right? But let’s look at that.

Scooter, 8, and EJ, 5, definitely do NOT eat the same sized meals!

Take for example my soon-to-be kindergartener who is about 46 inches tall and weighs about 50 pounds, he needs a lot fewer calories and a smaller serving size than my 8-year-old who is 61 inches tall and weighs 105 pounds; yet they’ll be served the same meal, same portion.

Another bit of ridiculousness: no more leftovers. Meaning that if the school cooks too much spaghetti on day one, the spaghetti cannot be offered again on day two. Unless it can be salvaged into another meal, it’s wasted. I guess I shouldn’t expect a government that’s full of waste to use resource-saving methods, but cutting out leftovers? I’m not sure that’s where our energy should be focused.

The change that is going to make the biggest impact on our household will not be the increase in the cost of school lunch, the changes to the meal plans or the increased color palate of the food…no, the biggest change will be purely monetary.

Seconds will no longer be offered at no cost to those that need a little more to tide them over through the day. And it doesn’t matter if you qualify for a free lunch or not, every child is charged the same. Apparently if we’re going to feed our children excessive amounts of food at lunch in school, then it’s only fair if we only overfeed those that can afford to seek professional help to lose the weight, right? Sorry, that wasn’t very polite of me.

The one who will feel the pinch the most from the new plan will not be just the student, or the parent hearing the complaints. It will be the teacher that is dealing with lethargic, hungry children who are counting down the minutes until they can head home and gorge themselves on whatever they find in the cupboards. But don’t worry, I’m sure it’ll be kale and collard greens and carrots.

Although a package of M&M’s has every color in it, too.

Trust me, I have a lot more to say about these changes…but will revisit this in the future. For more information on the changes, you can read the rules here. I will add other links as I come across them.

Pinke Post: 3 School Lunch Solutions w/ Linky

chrischinn: Does Your Child Fit the “One Size Fits All” Lunch Program?

Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch: School lunch is not make our kids fat!

whatthehellmichelle: Concerned Mother Sheila Ressler from North Dakota

Slow Money Farm: Are all children the same? Why are lunches?

Crystal Cattle: Raising a family without meat

GOODEnessgracious: Shame

Morning Joy Farm: School lunch soapbox

Our Little Place on the Prairie: School lunch changes – Are kids getting all they need?

This Farm Family’s Life: The Great School Lunch Debate…

24 thoughts on “School lunch: NOT the key to obesity

  1. Me and my children were just discussing this same issue. My son, a ninth grader, understands where the changes are coming from. First off both of my children are if anything under weight. My son was complaining that they are cutting down on proportion sizes and I do not think a growing boy should still be hungry when he is finishes his lunch. The most important question my son asked is, “Why would they cut back on a “healthy lunch” and then have vending machines in every corner?” He also commented to the fact that they accepted credit cards as a payment. I have been told so many times by people in our county that this may be the only good meal that a child recieves during the day and now we are taking that away. I don’t think the problems lies at the school level. I know they are trying to feed our chiildren healthy meals but if our children do not actually consume the food and it is thrown in a garbage can, we have accomplished nothing and I am paying for that food that gets thrown away. My mother was the manager of a high school lunch room for years and she strived to make things that children would actually eat. My children often beg her to come to their schools to cook their meals. I think we can have a balance between healthy and tasty. I just do not want my children going hungry during the day. I am sure this doesn’t help with hte learning process when your tummy is growling.

    D. Tierce, Calhoun, GA

  2. We are a fat, fat, fat country. Its disgusting. Children today are morbidly obese. It is the biggest drag on our healthcare system and therefore, our economy. And school meals have nothing to do with it, and I am not sure that anyone is suggesting that. I could be wrong.

    But the eating habits we acquire in our childhood stay with us the rest of our lives. If you use salt on every dish as a child, if you drink soda for lunch, dinner, to wash down your afternoon candybar, after dinner, breakfast, brunch, midnight thirst, sports drink, mixed drink, etc…, it will stay with you throughout your adulthood. And likewise, if you acquire a taste for healthy, local foods, you will continue to make those healthy decsions as you age.

    And I think that is the goal of these do-gooders, to target the “free lunch” kids, who come from the poorest, and therefore, most malnutrioned familes, to develop a culture of health consious people. Unfortunately, it seems to rub many people the wrong way. Ironically, or more humorously, this congress tried to pass a law that pizza and french fries (or are we still calling them ‘freedom fries’) were healthy vegetables and that the govt. should keep there govt. hands off the salt shaker in our schools! Take that Michelle Obama!

    It strikes me that we are so fricking priveliged to be able to have this debate… Excatly what variety of food should we be able to cram into our children? While across the world, people are fighting wars for fresh water…. Let me step down from my soapbox…

    I agree with almost everything you have to say, I especially agree with you with respect to the different needs of different children, thats why I like the idea of college-style cafeterias, with more options, such as salad bars, it would probably be much too expensive though, even though the produce would stay fresh for a couple of days. And soda vending machines should not be allowed on school property… These seem like local decisons to me.

    I feel like I was very well fed by the school (especially on crispito day!)… One thing I learned from my childhood, that I will pass on to my kids, along with physical fitness and the moratorium on soda, is to not eat those super-high sugar cereals before school, it caused me to be hyper, then crash. No focus whatsoever.

    • I agree almost completely, Chris. And again, I’m all for change and increasing choices for our children and removing the empty calories…I just question if that’s what we’re truly doing here. And requiring schools to increase their costs for lunch (not what they spend on it, what they charge for it)? Why can’t they have cheaper (for the student) meals? Limiting protein to 2-3 times per week, and no protein allowed for breakfast? Anyone wanting to make diet changes for losing weight will generally increase protein and decrease complex carbs, not the other way. And you can have seconds…if you can afford them. Can’t? Well, then you’ll just be hungry. That includes the salad bar.

      • I have a lot to learn, and it starts this fall… Then I can probably make a more informed opinion. By a complete fluke, we happen to live in the richest school district in Wisconsin, I am eager to see what that’s like.

  3. I worked in florida school food service for almost 25 years and I don’t think it is the school lunch that makes a child fat, it is all the fast food and snacks that a lot of parents give there children. Some parents make a real effort to teach there children to eat healthy but a lot do not. I watached parents bring happy meals to there school at lunch because that is all they would eat they said. we offered a hot meal, a sandwich and a chef salad and they children could pick what they wanted, there was usually 3 to 5 sides to pick from and juice and milk. We used very little salt, the mac and cheese was made with low fat chicken broth instead of milk and I could not beleive how good it tasted, my cooks were all upset when we received this recipe but were very surprised how good it was. we had a very good food service program. most of the staff ate lunch with us because they said it was go good. children need to be taught early to eat healthy and to try new things. I get really upset when I hear news people bad mouthing school food service, they do the best they can with what they have to work with. our KG and first grade had smaller servings and then they were larger as the grades went up. if I had a child that was still hungry I offered a PBJ and milk. we had a lot of low income students that aneeded extra food. our county served free breakfast to all students. thank you for reading this, I just get tired of hearing Mrs. Obama and the news people telling us how bad school food is for the kids.

    • Don’t apologize, please, I loved your comments and insight! And you are so very right, lunch is not where the problem begins…nor will it be where the problem ends. I’m perfectly fine with expanding choices and offering more varieties, cutting out the crud. But limiting calories and charging for those that need a little more to make it through the day…I think we have more pressing issues than for the federal government to take our schools to task for feeding those that are hungry. Thank you!

      • The schoolmI worked (manager) in had some very low income kids, on mom day morning I have seen some of the kids lick there breakfast plate because they had not had enough food over the week end, but there parents were able to buy there smoke supplies, get a new tattoo and buy more gold chains. I had parents fillmout free lunch forms and make too much money, when I called them to tell them they would say “oh, I forgot, we don’t make that much, send me a new form to fill out.” I had to send them one, Inwas not allowed to question there honesty. The program needs some work but the problem is not usually the lunch ladies. USDA has so much paper work and red tape. The USDA food that is used in the food program is not free and is sometimes more expensive then buying from a vender.

  4. Amen! You are absolutely right Val. Kids with money can buy a second lunch. Who is the real loser in that deal? The hunger child with out extra money to buy more food. Also the food waste makes me CRAZY. My son said today he survived on scraps last year and won’t get that this year! Thanks for starting the dialogue on this for me and helping me to get going on writing a blog post on it also. You inspire me.

  5. Let’s take this convo to the folks who can make a change!
    If anyone would like to send a letter to the people in charge here they are:

    Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services
    Kevin Concannon
    1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20250

    Secretary of Agriculture
    Tom Vilsack
    1400 Independence Ave, S.W.
    Washington, D.C. 20250

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