Some School Lunch Griping

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In the past two days, I have heard two “lunchroom” stories that broke my heart.


The first involved our very own elementary school. You should know that I live in one of the richest– and thinnest– states in the nation. We are always, always in the top five list when it comes to per capita income. We also land in the top five when it comes to “healthiest weight/most active.”


Why does that matter? Well, it’s important just because it also means our percentage of children on free/reduced lunch programs is relatively low. And, fortunately, most families are at the very least capable of affording good, wholesome food for their families. Theoretically, we shouldn’t have many, if any, children who are going hungry or are unable to get the nutrients they need.


But the other day, a little boy dropped his lunch tray. A mom with whom I’m friends was volunteering. She immediately went to go get part of her own daughter’s lunch to share with the teary-eyed boy. But then she remembered about allergies. No worries, she thought, I know we have money in our cafeteria account; I’ll buy him a new lunch. (Is it any wonder I like this woman?)


But the aide in the lunchroom wouldn’t let her. She told her that the boy– a first grader– needed to learn his lesson.


Yesterday, Phoebe shared the story of her own daughter‘s willingness to go without and/or get in trouble. Upon learning that another child could not afford lunch, she shared her own. They live in a different state with different needs and challenges from my own.


Both stories break my heart. These are the things that keep me up and make me worry.


And, yet, our government has determined that the best way to ensure the care and health of our public school children is to limit their caloric intake. (You can read all about it here, if you are so inclined. There’s some good stuff in there– like increased dark leafy greens. There are also some pathetic things– like sugar-packed chocolate milk is fine as long as there’s no fat in there.)


It all just makes my head spin.


And I can’t help but think, again, that our priorities are horribly skewed. Offering healthier, more nutrient-dense food? YES. I am on-board with that 100%. I agree unequivocally that our school lunch programs could use a makeover. Cutting fat and calories for growing children, but allowing processed and sugary foods to remain in abundance? Just doesn’t make sense to me.


How about we spend some time worrying about the children who are going without meals rather than whether or not they’re coming in under 650 calories?


What are your thoughts? I’d love to hear.


[I can get super duper fired up over this one. Believe it or not, I reined it in considerably here. ;)]

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19 comments to Some School Lunch Griping

  • Shirnell

    (sorry for the novel!) We live in an area with a high amount of free or reduced lunch. My mother-in-law keeps our sons lunch account paid so I guess we are free too, just in a different sense.

    The last week though, I’ve been curious what my son has been eating at lunch since he comes home absolutely starving. One day it was half a taco and fruit. Another it was a Lunchable, which the school had(???).

    I’m not pleased with what has been demonstrated with my child so I’m sending him with a packed lunch. Will it solve all the school lunch problems? No but at least I’ll feel better about what he eats. And it breaks my heart that for some children, school is the only place they eat. (which, I was told, is the case for some students at our school.)

    • I pack my children’s lunches and, thus far, they don’t fall under governmental scrutiny. But I won’t lie– I worry. I worry that one day someone will be given the task of making sure even the lunches packed at home meet their new “guidelines.” And, while I am to-the-bone confident that I send healthy lunches, I’m not counting the calories… :S

  • The more I sit back and think about this entire situation, the more fired up I get. I seriously just don’t even know where to start with my words.

    It absolutely disgusts me that, in the case from your school, the aide said that the little boy needed to learn his lesson. REALLY?! Because an accident is something we need to penalize a child for–not let them eat? What has the world come to?

    In Kait’s case, there were teachers walking around the lunch room–they HAD to have seen this little girl with nothing to eat. You have to pass 2 {or more} teachers to even get to the tables. And no one seen that her hands were empty? They know that this family is going through a hard time {admitted to me by teacher in the school}.

    Unlike your school, a good percentage of our children are on free/reduced lunches and even then–School lunches are the only meals they eat. The new change is what sparked this post {} and I have a feeling I’ll be writing another one soon. :)

    • The aide gave the impression that, perhaps, this was a recurring incident. And maybe it is. But, here’s the thing– if that’s the case? A new game-plan needs to be put in place. If that means someone else carries the tray, so be it. If it means he’s not permitted to eat in the cafeteria until he demonstrates consistent behavior, so be it. Accomodations need to be made to ensure that, no matter what, this child EATS. (And the fact that he was crying makes me suspicious about how intentional this could possibly be…)

  • My jaw is on the floor :(. That is crazy to me!!

  • Amanda Wade

    Oh JL! I’m not sure you want me to chime in on this one!
    The food system in this country is so screwed up, it boggles my mind. For some reason we think it’s ok to fill our babies with sugar, fat-free chemical storms, processed junk, etc., while limiting their intake of things like saturated fats, veggies, fruits, and whole milk. Not to mention the inorganics, the pesticides, and the GMOs. Don’t even get me started on the GMOs!
    The government perpetuates this myth that whole, nutrient dense foods are detrimental to our health. But there’s a reason God put cholesterol in eggs! There’s a reason He put fats in milk and meat. There’s a reason there are vitamins and minerals in fruits and vegetables! We need them all, and He has given them to us. But we have been had by the policies that state that processed wheat and corn laden garbage will help you be healthy, and yet the health of the people continues to decline. And then we feed our kids the same and wonder why they end up picky, obese adults.
    I too think it’s absolutely ridiculous that the lunch aide said the little boy had to learn his lesson. ACCIDENTS HAPPEN. I would call the school and complain about that person, because that is unacceptable. So shameful. If schools and the government cared about our children at all, they’d do away with the processed crap and make sure that each child got a whole healthy meal at lunch…just in case that is the only meal they get that day.
    Bah! This topic makes me so outraged!

    • It makes me outraged, too! And I absolutely DO want you to chime in, precisely for that reason! People SHOULD be upset about all this, in my opinion. Everything you wrote? I nodded along. Actual FOOD is not inherently evil. Bah.

  • I think that mom should have gone to the school principal on that one. Unless that boy drops his tray every day (doubt it) then he deserved lunch and that lunch aide shouldn’t be deciding what lessons he needs to learn.

    I am lunch mom at my school. A child accidently dumped some oranges off her tray while trying to rebalance the milk. I told the lunch aid and as soon as they were done serving and determined that they had extra they brought her more.

    Now the issue I have at my school is that kids are not allowed condiments any more unless they specifically ask, then only one and they are all tracked. You know, because condiments in the school lunch is what is causing this countries childhood obesity problem. That is what I was told the reasoning was.

    • Phoebe referenced the condiment cut-back in her post, too. Gracious. While they might be nutritional powerhouses, I can pretty much guarantee that ketchup and ranch dressing aren’t at the root of our greatest childhood health concerns, either. *raises eyebrow*

  • Susan

    My son is so skinny, I am happy when he eats anything, including hamburgers and french fries. He goes to a (private) school where lunches are $8 a day, can you believe that one? If my child went to a public school, I would worry more about the kids that had nothing to eat at home. I would make sure that the school lunch programs covered breakfast and lunch (anything…the kids would be happy to eat pancakes, bacon, hamburgers) All of that food is much better than nothing to eat at home. Parents that can afford it can worry about the nutrients in the food.

    • I am more concerned about children going without, too, Susan– there have to be priorities. It’s kind of like the whole “food pantry debate” wherein some people claim canned veggies are sub-standard junk. Are fresh healthier? Yep. Am I still glad the canned variety is available for those who are hungry and in need. You betcha.

  • My child is only 2. He goes to daycare 3 days a week and I have to pack his lunch. We are on a seriously reduced income and we’re lucky to have such cheap daycare that is respectable and trustworthy! My son gets to take Earth’s Best Level 2& 3 jars of food with him, because I don’t want to pack him a cheap ham sandwich. I would rather him eat a meal of pureed fruits and veggies than ingest cheap food that is within our budget. He does get snacks that aren’t always super healthy (i.e. – chocolate chip cookies), but he eats very well. I can’t imagine if he had to eat at a school and dropped his lunch and was forbidden to get more. I would have been so outraged! Around our house, if food is scarce, Beanster EATS! WE go without.

    It is a shame that our gov’t thinks it’s necessary to make skinny kids in school. Kids are naturally chubby (not to say that some children aren’t obese, at all) and I would resent it if someone told me my child couldn’t have any salt, or was not allowed a second helping if he dropped his tray. This is outrageous and a travesty that those who are defenseless are being treated this way!

    At our church on Wednesday nights we feed the kids from Pre-K and Toddlers all the way through 12th grade. We are told that many of these kids don’t have enough food at home and only get to eat at school and church. Bless the church for feeding those who are in need! I apologize for the rant, but healthy food is so much more important for little growing minds and bodies that some caloric restriction that the gov’t will find out later was a bad idea to begin with! Our nation is in a sad state if we restrict by law our eating habits!

    God bless all of you who have a heart for these hungry kids and do something about it!

    • I agree with you, Lynell– “healthy food is so much more important for little growing minds and bodies than some caloric restriction…” Indeed. And there is not one thing wrong with getting a chocolate chip cookie here and there. ;)

  • Darcey

    My kids get free lunch and last they complained constantly about the lack of variety. Every monday they had one kind of food, Tuesdays another, etc. Every Wednesday was chicken nuggets and Fridays are Pizza. The same every week. With the new laws the menus have changed for the better, they get more fruits and veggies and another hot item to choose from. They still have Chicken nuggets but not as often and Pizza is stil on Fridays. Talk about yuck!! Anyway, I worry about how my kids would be treated if anyone knew they got free lunches. We live in an affluent area, but there are more and more people without work and needing help. My kids still share their snacks with other kids who don’t bring any. It is too bad that kids have to be punished for being kind.

    • I think it’s wonderful that the lunch menu has changed for the better, Darcey! I do believe variety can be a very good thing– that’s one reason I pack lunches, to be honest. I am very pleased with the additional fruits and veggies being offered. That’s great. But I still object to the idea of limiting fat and calories for growing children. I think increased activity would go a lot further in improving health…

      • Darcey

        I totally agree. I meant to add that there was an article in our local paper that stated that kids are hungrier. Especially athletes. They are not getting enough good food and fat. My kids do not have to worry about getting fat, they are not. I chose to have them eat healthier at home. I asked my kids if they feel like they are getting less food and my son said that he has been finishing his meals. That was not true in the past. I really think the schools could do better with more “home cooking” it really is not that hard or more time consuming. There is no reason that they cannot save money by cooking more and giving the kids more of a healthy food. Thanks for posting this.

  • Kathy

    I have been complaining about this for weeks. My first complaint is just that our government has their hands in yet another thing. When are Americans going to stand up and say that enough is enough. Is it going too far that Mrs. Obama has been quoted as saying that now that she has taken on school lunches she is going to take on the grocery stores. Are we going to be limited on how much sugar we can buy? or Are we not going to be able to buy items that are “bad” in the government’s eyes?
    I will say that I am for kids eating healthier and better. I think that it should not be forced down from the government. I work in a school as a teacher and she it first hand. This program has it’s perks, but the those are far out weighed by the downsides. Yes there are more fruits and veggies, but since carbs, potatoes, and the such are very limited; kids are going hungry. The school can’t put enough fillers on the tray for the kids to get full. Most of the kids choose to go hungry rather than eat more veggies (they like some of them, but very few like all of them so they don’t have enough of what they will eat on their trays). The school is also limited on the portion sizes more than ever. Our cafeteria staff has worked to change the portion size of things like rolls to meet the new guidelines. These smaller rolls are not enough for any kid that is growing. Yes it is enough for the little bird eating girl, but not enough for a 10-12 year old boy who is burning lots of calories and growing like a weed. And oh boy doesn’t it do wonders for class time when the kids are hungry, upset about the choices, and downright frustrated.
    Let parents and communities raise their children and not give control of this to the government. I am waiting for the day for them to tell me that I can’t bake chocolate chip cookies for my kids or a cake for their birthday.

  • Heather

    Oh this is one topic that I get fired up about!! My sister in law teaches middle school and in the middle school and high school they have now started making all the children on free/reduced lunches go through a seperate line to get their food, which is in a brown paper sack. That is humiliating for many children, and completely unnecessary. Not only that, but at the high school level they are cutting the lunches down to 750 calories. Our nephews play sports, and came home STARVING the first few days of school, since these changes were made. Not only that, but they have raised the prices of school lunches here, but are giving out less food. My son is only 5 yrs old and I pack his lunch every day, but now what the schools are doing is offering ice cream for a snack each day if you send $1. How does that help childhood obesity? We have also have schools in the surrounding areas that DO monitor what food is being brought in from home. One child was forced to go and get a school lunch when his mom packed a bologna sandwich, fruit cup, and capri sun. Ridiculous!!!!!

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