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.
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.
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.