The start of a new school diet…I mean year

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?

boys on first day of school

Do the these boys look like they would all eat the same amount of food?

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.)

This change smells funny

Recently it was announced (with much fanfare, I might add), that changes were being made to the new school lunch guidelines. Now, for anyone who knows me at all, or has read more than a handful of my posts, you know that I’m not a big fan of the changes. I’ll let you read for yourself as to why.

Empty trays and empty bellies...but don't worry, the garbage cans have been full!

Empty trays and empty bellies…but don’t worry, the garbage cans have been full!

So when I read about these new changes, I was excited that we were making headway, that the USDA was starting to see reason and our children were no longer going to be used as diet guinea pigs and be paraded around as some science experiment. I think I celebrated a little to early.

First of all, let me reiterate that I am not unhappy with ALL of the new school lunch guidelines. I love the idea of new menus, trying different things and encouraging fresh fruits and vegetables. I really, really do.

Yet, I have major issues with limiting calories for growing bodies, mandating that every school charge for seconds and limiting the amounts of proteins and grains that can be served.

The changes came in the order of a letter from Sec. Vilsack, announcing that for the remainder of the school year, limits on protein and grains would be lifted. Yay! Right???

Not so fast.

The problem truly lies within the limits on calories, which is not lifted. And the release of grains and proteins is only temporary, to allow schools time to adjust their menus and find vendors that can supply these new meal requirements.

On the heels of this “announcement” of change, comes an article from the New York Times. It states that “After decades of rising childhood obesity rates, several American cities are reporting their first declines.” Sounds great, doesn’t it?

Except when you read the article, you notice a few problems.

For instance, the fall in obesity in children in New York City was recorded from 2007 to 2011. Wait a minute…our kids were getting healthier before school lunch was changed? The decline in Los Angeles was from 2005 to 2010. And the decline was contributed to things like giving healthy tips during school, not putting the students on a nation-wide diet.

Yet my twitter feed is full of agencies and groups claiming that the new guidelines are already showing improvements, taking credit for the drop in a rate that was already dropping all on its own…without calorie caps and protein limits.

So why am I leery about the changes? Because if you read the actual announcement, you’ll quickly learn that it’s very temporary…and it’ll be very hard to implement. Yes, a school can ignore the limits on protein and grains for the rest of the school year, but they cannot ignore the calorie cap.

School lunch release

It’s kind of like giving a kid an allowance of $5 per day, instructing them that if they want to keep getting their allowance every week, they can only spend $25 for the whole week (we’re working within a school week here). But, for a limited time, they can buy all they want…as long as they don’t spend more than $25 per week.

Doesn’t matter how it’s worded, the child is still stuck spending only $25, unless they want to give up their allowance for the next week.

Try again, USDA…you can do better.