Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Is Mandatory School Lunch the Right Way to Teach Kids About Healthy Eating?

Think the idea of outlawing sack lunches in school sounds crazy? Well think again- that's exactly what one school in Chicago has done. Students are no longer allowed to bring lunches from home, and they must eat the lunch provided by the school. The only exceptions are for children with medical needs or allergies.

I'll just come right out and say it- I think this is outrageous! My family is far from perfect, but I work really hard to try to ensure that what we're eating is healthy. I read labels, buy organics when I can afford it, join natural food co-ops, and cook most of our food from scratch. And that's just a start- I'm working on lots more changes to make our diet just as healthy as I can! And to go through all that effort to be told by a school that my children must eat what they're supplying? That's unacceptable.

School lunches aren't healthy. Sure, they meet "nutritional guidelines" or whatever it is that they're telling us, but that doesn't really mean much. Most school lunches are frozen processed food, bland veggies, fruit cups with syrup, and the like. They might have the approved combination of "whole grains" and not too much sodium or sugar, but what else is included? How many other ingredients and preservatives are in this processed stuff? Just take a look at the picture in the Chicago Tribune article- those enchiladas don't exactly look wholesome. And there's chocolate milk on the tray for goodness sake! Now I'm not saying that chocolate milk is the most horrible thing out there, but I certainly don't consider it a healthy alternative to a soda, especially when you consider that there's probably high fructose corn syrup in it.

If you're not convinced that school lunches aren't nutritious, I'd encourage you to visit this blog written by a teacher who ate her school's lunch for a year. Or watch Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. Or do your own research. The info's out there.

The school claims that they've made this policy in attempt to help kids to be healthier. Now lets just pretend for a second, despite the evidence to the contrary, that these school lunches are exceptionally healthy. Since when has forcing an idea on people been a good way to get a point across? Surely a school full of teachers, administrators, and principals whose jobs are to deal with children on a daily basis should know this. When you try to force a child to do something, even if it's the right thing, their first response is to rebel. That's not an effective vehicle for a positive change.

I'm outraged from a financial standpoint as well. Yes, some families will qualify for assistance and their children will receive the mandatory school lunch for free. But what about the families that don't qualify? They're forced to pay for the school lunch that their child is forced into eating(or not- the child can choose not to eat it, but if they don't then they go hungry. Awesome.). I don't know off hand the average cost of a school lunch these days, but I've heard many parents say that they can send their child to school with a nutritious lunch for much less money than it costs for them to buy the school lunch for their child. Parents shouldn't be forced to spend more money for less nutritious food. And I can't help but wonder what kind of money is going under the table from the food manufacturers to the school bureaucrats who made this rule.

With childhood obesity and diabetes rates skyrocketing, it's more important now than ever for kids to learn how to live and eat healthy. But I think this school in Chicago has it all wrong. I think that the key word here is LEARN. It's important for children to learn how to eat right, not be forced to eat right. If it's not something they learn to do for themselves, then they won't be eating right outside of school, and probably not as they become adults either!

So what are some constructive things that schools could do to promote a healthy lifestyle? Some schools have chosen to take sodas and candy out of their vending machines. I think that's a great idea. It takes the junk food temptation away without also taking away freedom of choice from students and parents. And lets get a little creative here- how about classes on nutrition, for the students and their parents? How about making sure that every child gets a recess or a P.E. class? This school in Chicago is taking the easy way out- and lining the pocketbooks of the food manufacturers in the process. Our kids deserve more than this.

1 comment:

  1. Wow, that sounds so scary. I've seen the quality of my child's schools dinners and I was horrified - there was no quality and the portions meant she was hungry when she got in from school. I really understand it might work in a socially deprived area where kids get nothing hot to eat, but really, I think most parents can cater well for their children using a packed lunch...

    Warm wishes
    Mrs Green