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How You Can Save Your Child’s School Lunch

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Typical school lunch
Last week Congress failed to pass the Child Nutrition Bill. It would have created stronger nutritional standards and provided additional funding for the first time in 30 years. Do you know how much the funding was? Six cents per lunch.

That means that in Los Angeles, for example, the money spent on each school lunch would have risen to 60 cents from 54. In France, they spend more than five dollars on each school lunch. And then we wonder why French women are skinny and we’re not.

Change won’t happen waiting for Congress to get their act together. It has to start at home, with one school, with your child.

I don’t have children, and in fact have no plans to, but I was more than riled up after listening to Chef Ann Cooper, AKA the Renegade Lunch Lady, last week. She’s tired of pitifully unhealthy school lunches and she’s doing something about it, and—even better—she’s giving everyone the tools to do something about it, too.

Recently, Chef Cooper has revamped school lunch programs in Berkeley and Boulder. Before you roll your eyes over how easy it must be to create change in these “liberal bastions,” she said Boulder was the most resistant community that she has encountered.

Some of her most interesting points:

  • Get rid of the processed food and high fructose corn syrup. (Again, HFCS is not dangerous in and of itself; the problem is that it’s hidden in foods, even salty foods, as a stabilizer; not to mention it’s cheaper than sugar so it’s in the economic interest of food companies to use it; consequently, the soaring presence of HFCS in multiple foods is contributing to an unprecedented spike in diabetes)
  • “Chocolate milk is soda in drag.” No more flavored milk in schools.
  • Get rid of the chicken nuggets. If you haven’t seen Mechanically Separated Chicken (and you have a strong stomach), click here. This is what chicken nuggets are made of. This is also done to turkey (think turkey dogs and deli meats). If this doesn’t inspire change, I don’t know what will.
  • We spend up to five times more on our morning coffee than we do on kids’ lunches.
  • Recess (if it’s even offered anymore) must be before lunch and we must have 30-minute (not 10-minute) lunch periods.
  • One out of every four meals is eaten in a car. When do kids learn about food? You set the example. Take time to share a meal.
  • Children born in 2000 will be the first in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents.
  • We now have more prisoners in jail in this country than farmers. (A woman at the meeting had just toured a prison and said their food storage and preparation was outstanding—why can’t we do the same for kids?)
  • Most important, if your kids take their own lunches to school and you think this doesn’t affect you, remember that the instructor teaches to the bottom one-third of the class, and nutrition and exercise affects attention span and behavior (sugar spikes and crashes), so your child WILL be affected regardless (not to mention our global competitiveness on a larger scale).

When I posted some of these thoughts on the LTBB Facebook page, a teacher protested about this last comment. She admitted she was a little sensitive to teacher criticism due to the upcoming Waiting for ‘Superman’ movie, but she says she has exhaustively asked parents to send snacks for their children to keep their energy levels up. What do they often send? “Flamin Hot Cheetos.”

This is not going to be an easy battle, but isn’t it a worthwhile one? I didn’t know who Ann Cooper was until last week, but if I were a parent I’d want to know her now.

So what can you do?

  • Click here to learn the FACTS about school lunch. Chef Cooper said school officials will blatantly lie about what is mandated in order to avoid change.
  • Chef Cooper has salad bars to give away! Click here to learn about the Salad Bar Project.
  • Click here for tools and resources, including instructional templates and recipes for change.
  • Give kids the tools to start growing and cooking real food from a young age: Support a community garden that offers educational classes. For example: Olivewood Gardens in San Diego and Sauvie Island Center in Oregon.
Oct. 07 2010 |
  1. Fred Kosanke

    Nice article. However, to say that chicken nuggets are inherently bad is not fair. Not all chicken nuggets contain mechanically seperated poultry. Sure,.it is in use and it is economical to do so. Part of the training should be in label reading so that one can determine if the product has such and such ingredients. It is not hard to do. Kids would be armed as well as parents to make informed decisions. I would caution authors to be less condemning with inaccurate and general statements about products and be more informative. I do not represent any poultry company but I do know this business very well.

  2. Kate

    Interesting post and some scary stats. Thanks for posting this.

    As a teacher I too find that the comment “the instructor teaches to the bottom one third of the class” to be a bit unfair. Perhaps some or even many teachers do this, but definitely not all as I’m sure you agree.

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