Lunch Lady

24 Sep

Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to chat about the environmental health of the Santa Monica Bay with some true VIPs. Kids. We talked about dolphins, we talked about sand crabs, we talked about sharks, we talked about the importance cleaning up after ourselves. And then we ate lunch.

Would YOU eat it? Oh good, let's feed it to the school kids...photo: megansquire via Flickr

As we sat in the sand, I was impressed with how well-behaved and quiet most of the students were (later on, each and every child threw out their trash). And then I looked at the lunches. While some students brought a lunch, many were given lunches from the schools they traveled from. The main course of which were plastic packaged Smuckers “Uncrustables” (ingredients include high-fructose corn syrup and hydrogenated oils). I just have to ask how difficult it is to just put peanut butter and jelly on some wholesome bread rather than using something pre-packed in plastic with undoubtedly more preservatives. But, time may be a big constraint when it comes to field trips and I guess I can understand that; get the kids on the bus as easily as possible. What I can’t understand is why the school packed way too many lunches that ultimately got completely thrown away. What a waste. Most of the other childrens’ lunches consisted of things like Kraft Lunchables and flavored drinks in neon colors that stained faces for the rest of the day. Wanna know what’s IN a Lunchable (advertised as “wholesome and nutritious lunches for kids”)? Check out the ingredient list on one of the new, more “healthful” ones. I didn’t see a whole lot of fruit and basically didn’t see much of anything not in plastic. If I had eaten these lunches, I would’ve gotten sick on the bus ride back to school.

So, I know parents are busy and I know someone here is going to peg me for not having kids and only having to worry about my own lunch but packing a healthy lunch isn’t all that time-consuming. My mom did it for twins while working full-time. Putting an apple in a bag takes the same amount of time as putting a bag of chips in, a juice box the same amount of time as a soda. Good food is more expensive, yes, which is why free or reduced price school lunches for kids in need should come with at least an actual sandwich.

Nowadays, vending machines in schools, even elementary schools, are ubiquitous. So, adults, I’m asking: have you ever found anything healthy in a vending machine? No, Honeybuns don’t count. Does a third-grader really need access to a Coke for lunch every day? Let me now dispel another popular excuse, that kids don’t like healthy food. A school in Ohio recently installed an all-carrot vending machine with great results. I won’t say that it’s a perfect idea, it’s still not exactly fresh food and it’s still in a plastic bag, but it’s still a BIG improvement on a bag of M&Ms or Sour Patch Kids.

Look! Kids like real food! Photo:UEPI via Flickr

Parent or not, I support schoolkids getting healthier, fresher and more local lunch food. And thus, I support the efforts of  The National Farm to School Program. Something else you should know: The Child Nutrition and WIC Reauthorization Act of 2004 expired on September 30 of last year but was extended until this September 30 (you can find the entire Act online). That means it expires next week. Reforms that should pass this year if the act is reauthorized would include everything from free meals to more low-income children, to removing the junk from the vending machines, according to Healthwatch, Capitol Hill’s healthcare blog. Am a wary of what is going to go in those free lunches? Yes. But it’s still preferable to a child going hungry in school.

And don’t think this conundrum of highly processed fast cheap lunches only affects the little ones. Having to purchase snacks for a last minute work meeting from the closest grocery store recently (with a certain budget) had me wandering around the aisles for ages trying to come up with something preferable to a grown-up version of a Lunchable. Good thing I brought an apple.

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3 Responses to “Lunch Lady”

  1. Brent September 27, 2010 at 4:34 am #

    I’ve seen in a few test markets that more healthful options are ending up in vending machines. Major produce companies have started developing refrigerated snack machines filled with mixed veggies, fruit cups, and even bananas.

    Hopefully the idea catches quick and I’ll be able to grab something good to munch on instead of just staring disappointedly at the rows of over-salted, super-sugary, artifically flavored junk food in the company break room.

  2. Chella September 24, 2010 at 2:17 pm #

    Cont…

    They also taught the kids (elementary level) a system that is displayed on their lunch menus. It goes along with a traffic light. There are 3 categories for the meals: Green (Go), Yellow (Slow), and Red (Whoa!). Green foods are the healthiest and can be eaten anytime, yellow foods are ok in moderation, and red meals should be eaten only every once in a while. There are only a few red choices each week.

  3. Chella September 24, 2010 at 2:10 pm #

    Well, as a busy mom of 2 school-age children, let me say that it really doesn’t take much more effort to pack your kids a healthy lunch. Buying organic and all natural products in bulk (I love you, Costco!) even makes it, dare I say, affordable.

    I do have to give credit to my son’s school district though. They have made incredible improvements over the last few years. We are a carbonated beverage-free district (even at the high school level), cafeteria foods are not permitted to be fried (actually statewide) and this year they premiered a new lunch program with the following highlights:

    Options such as: hummus & veggie platter, sunbutter & apple sandwiches, whole grain pasta, general tso’s chicken

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