School kicked off yesterday. I couldn’t wait until I could get home and ask my children how their day went. Did they like their new teachers? Did they have any new classmates? Meet any new friends? As a typical mother, I was starved for details!
And also at the top of my mind? Were my children starved as well?
For those new to my blog, not only am I a farm wife, a mother of four boys and a lover of all things agriculture, I’m also passionate about a few causes. One of those just so happens to be the new school lunch guidelines. Perhaps it’s because those mandates not only hit me in the pocketbook, they hit my children in the stomach…and it’s something that I cannot stand to see.
So I sat down with my two oldest children, and asked how the day went, I asked about recess, I asked about teachers, I asked about lunch. And what I heard made my heart sink.
My oldest (in sixth grade) told me a story about his lunch. He explained that he was served three chicken strips, about the size of his pinky. And they were good, but you had to pay for seconds to get three more. A friend of his also wanted seconds, but he said he didn’t have school lunch money. (Which in the sixth-grade world, I would take to mean that either he’s on the free-or-reduced-lunch program, but isn’t allowed seconds because even the free-lunch program students need to pay the full price for seconds OR his parents have requested that he not be allowed to go back for seconds.) So he asked another friend to go back for seconds and share his food, which his friend more than happily obliged.
Here are the two things you can take away from this: 1) There is an amazing group of boys in that class that watch out for each other, and 2) The new school lunch guidelines are causing an even larger hurdle for parents to overcome.
My questions that I would love to have answered:
- Why are schools required to charge a minimum price for lunch?
- Why are schools mandated to charge for seconds?
- What is the purpose of calorie limits, unless it is to put our whole public school system on a diet?
- What else will be at risk if a school were to turn away from the nutrition program?
- Why are educational funding dollars connected directly to the nutrition program, for example, Title One?
- Why? Why? Why?
I’ve asked these questions multiple times, including directly to the USDA during a Twitter chat regarding school lunch. All I received was the typical song and dance, no real answers and no real hope of anything being done.
But I’m not done yet.
Can I pack my children’s lunch? Certainly. In fact, I could cater them a meal to the school and not have a worry in the world about their tummy’s rumbling come the bus ride home. But that’s hardly the point.
The system is broken. The “Band-Aid” to fix it is doing little to address the problem, and creating more in its wake.
The media is touting the new guidelines, claiming that our obesity rates are dropping. But I have news for you. They were dropping prior to all of the new mandates. And they can continue to drop with education, and a large variety of offerings at our schools, not calorie limits and federally mandated diets.
No, I will not sit quietly by and listen to my son tell stories about how a couple of elementary students have found a way to beat the system. I will step in and work to change the system. It’s not the children that are broken…it’s the one-size-fits-all regulations that are in place.
I have no doubt that this will be an uphill battle, and there’s a good chance that I won’t get all of the changes that I am hoping for, but I know I’m not alone. In fact, there’s even a whole Facebook page dedicated to seeing Sensible changes. And I’m hoping that one day, before too long, children won’t have to be ashamed that they are hungry, and they won’t have to rely on close friends to smuggle them food.
Not when there is plenty in front of them.
So how do we work together for change? Contact your local school districts and state officials. We CAN make a difference! Is your school doing something different? Do you have stories of children helping each other to get a full meal? Use the contact me above to share your story, and together we’ll make a difference! (I will keep all information confidential, unless instructed otherwise.)
Thanks Val for bringing this back to the spot light. My boys start school today and I am excited for them but nervous to hear their lunch story. My boys are far from obese, extremely active and will come home starved. I too will keep calling, emailing, and sending letters in hopes of getting some senisble changes.
This broke my heart to read. I have no children but I do have a nephew and nieces. I am so disheartened at the changes that have been made to school lunches. I haven’t been in school for nearly 20 years but obesity was NOT a problem then and we got more than enough food, and I was on the free lunch program. Why blame the obesity issues on school lunch rather than the parents inability to get their kids off the video games and get them active! Children should not have to rely on friends to get enough food. Kudos to your son and friend for helping the other friend out.
Amen! Count me in to help any way I can. My daughter finally just gave up and started taking a lunch every day. My concern with that is…how soon before they start mandating what you can bring from home? Scary thought!
A local school has had 2 Share Pans available for students at lunch. Some days they overflow, because many kids don’t like the main dish or salad or whatever they have. One pan has ice in it, so milk cartons stay cool. The students can drop off what they don’t want immediately after exiting the lunch line in the same area where they pick up condiments and tableware. That way no student’s fingers have touched the food. Other hot lunch students who do want more are free to go take what they want that’s been donated in that central location. No sharing of food is allowed at the lunch tables, due to possible food allergy issues. Perhaps this would work for other schools. (The cafeteria staff do remove some excess donated items and offer them as if they were new. Other items must be discarded, like the milk and vegetables offered in large pans.)
I couldn’t agree more. If children were given nutrient dense, healthy food to eat at school we might start to address the root source of some classroom issues. Hungry children are not able to attend to the classroom, focus,and perform at their best. I don’t just mean children who don’t have enough food to eat but those who are not getting nutrient dense food regularly. I have seen that the Wenatchee, wa school district has started to address this issue by bring in a chef that has revamped their school district, the great side effect of going to a locally source fresh foods. The school district has impacted the local economy and local farms by sourcing their foods from local farms. They have even started teaching the children about where their food comes from and have them meet the farmers and sample their fruits and veggies. They have seen less food waste and many other benefits. Way to go, Momma! Keep up the work!