The Movement to Improve School Food

by Ann on November 21, 2009

Photo by Cecily Upton

I graduated high school in 1997 - and since grade school, I always brought my own lunch.  Why?  Because the school food was nasty AND unhealthy.  Even as a 1st grader - I knew this food was not near as good as the stuff I ate at home.  I was just lucky enough that my parents could afford to make me my own lunches that were relatively healthy.  I am aware that some school districts out there have already taken matters into their own hands in favor of working together with farms, planting their own gardens, and hiring innovative chefs.  But for the most part - the rest of us are stuck in Lunch Lady Land.  My son is only two - but I’m already not looking forward to sending him off to school to eat the cafeteria  food.  See, I’m a girl (obviously), and we didn’t have any qualms about bringing our own lunch to school.  But boys (I’m remembering my high-school)- they’re macho.  They don’t want to walk around carrying a brown paper sack or worse-yet, a reusable thermal bag!  How embarrassing!?!  So, many of those cool boys end up eating the gross food- not liking it, but shoving it into their mouths anyway so they don’t have to deal with bringing their own bags.  Even if they’re not embarrassed about bringing their own lunches, they didn’t want to have to deal with making a lunch - it’s just too much to think about.  In high school- my boyfriend (now husband) - used to sit by me during lunchtime and share my lunch because it tasted so much better than what he could’ve bought!  Then, he also got to save his lunch money and use it for CDs or something.  Worked out pretty slick for him:) 

And then there’s the vending machine.  I’m not anti-vending machine.  Personally, I don’t think it’s a good idea to strictly prohibit things from kids.  My thinking: I’m sure we all know the party-animals in college who gained tons of weight and went a little crazy with alcohol.  They almost certainly came from super-strict parents who not only didn’t let them do anything, but also made them eat all healthy foods all the time.  I wish I could run around and make sure O only ate super-healthy stuff.  But, I know if I say no when we’re out and about, I’m just creating a monster!  He gets the occasional trans fat food (gasp!!!!) and whatnot, but otherwise, he eats pretty well and I’m relatively low-key in public considering the internal turmoil:)  I’m healthy and I know growing up I had my share of the stuff!  But there are a million ways to add better, more natural choices to the vending machines-with food and drinks.  

Anyway, O goes to a pre-preschool type of program once per week for 2 1/2 hours.  In those 2 1/2 hours, a parent is in charge of bringing a snack but it has to be peanut free.  The list of peanut free foods is mostly empty calorie, artificial, processed crap.  Except for fruit, yogurt and cheese.  Most moms, having to feed the whole class snacks, go the cheap, nutrition-free processed route.  Thinking it’s more practical on their budgets, plus, a healthy alternative to what they may have otherwise brought in to class was made in a facility that processes peanut, so it’s out.  Already, I’m seeing that we need a list of healthy peanut-free foods for situations like these so that we can bring our kids healthy snacks.  I couldn’t find a comprehensive healthy list anywhere - but I’m assuming one exists somewhere.  By healthy, in this respect, I’m just asking for no preservatives, no artificial coloring, flavors, no trans-fats, no high-fructose corn syrup- or any suspect sweeteners for that matter, antibiotic free meat and pesticide free meet and produce would be nice as well -and whatever else I’m not thinking of at this moment that should obviously be added to this list!  The wonderful thing is, the big food companies are starting to catch on. 

Unfortunately, our Child Nutrition Act only allows $1 per meal which alone is obviously not enough for schools to prepare healthy meals, even fast food restaurants laden with cheap fats don’t often make money on their $1 menus- this program is coming up for reauthorization from Congress in early 2010 and if enough people voice their opinion - then we CAN make a difference.  So at least if they change this program it’ll actually be something that can help reduce health costs in the future.  Ta da!  Tackle the problem before it becomes one with the young kids - and reverse some damage already caused.  For more information and to see what  YOU can do,  click here: for how to get involved - how to be a voice and write a letter to your congressperson.  There are programs for kids to write in school as well as a project (I don’t think they need to be afraid they’ll only get broccoli from now on - I’m pretty sure the choices will still be vast!).   And to sign a petition click HERE.  I’m going to write an email letter.  Are you in?

Also, if you have any great peanut-free lists of healthy options, I’d really like that so that I can pass it on to my son’s teachers and maybe get better “peanut-free approved” list of foods for him!  Thanks!

{ 6 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Denise Muller November 21, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I wouldn’t worry about him not wanting to take a reusable lunch bag. My son is in 5th grade and has brought a reusable bag, bottle and hot thermos almost every day since the first day of school. Times have changed and a LOT of kids pack a lunch. There is so much more awareness when it comes to the quality of the food as well as allergies and intolerances.

2 Ann November 21, 2009 at 8:33 pm

Thanks Denise! That would be so wonderful if I didn’t have to worry about sack lunches. Here’s hoping for a better lunch program anyway- best of both worlds!

3 mel November 22, 2009 at 2:48 pm

Not the cheapest but a great peanut-free snack would be using sunbutter (sunflower butter which is peanut and gluten free and a total MUST HAVE at my peanut free house!) balls. Just mix honey with sunbutter and granola and sunflower seeds, raisins, sesames, raisins, whatever. Roll into balls and roll in coconut. You can up the protein content by mixing in a good quality powdered milk or whey protein or even powdered coconut milk. Other ideas are: homemade peanut free trail mix, celery sticks with sunbutter and raisins or tuna or egg salad, devilled eggs, veggies with hummus or lentil pate, corn chips with black bean dip. Some parents may actually thank you for giving their child more exposure to healthy foods!

I am constantly amazed at the carb amounts kids are given as snacks and in meals. Right now, I am gestationally diabetic, so we have had a crash course in the importance of protein and fat in regulating blood sugar. My vote for a snack would definitely be high protein, low carb! Or at the very least, include a protein!

Eat well! Live well!

4 Ann November 22, 2009 at 3:15 pm

Thanks Mel! Those are great suggestions- I have all the ingredients to make the sunbutter balls, yummmm, think I’ll go do that right now:)

5 cinnamonquill November 22, 2009 at 4:57 pm

Ah, I am definitely in to improve lunches. I’ll check out that petition! You have a wonderful idea to compose a list of peanut-free snacks. If not too much trouble, would you mind posting it when complete? There is undoubtedly a need! In the last month I made a list of GF toddler type snack ideas for a friend, and a vegan toddler food list for another friend. And I don’t even have kids (yet?! , so obviously people are desperate for this kind of info.

6 ingrid November 24, 2009 at 3:30 pm

Thanks for the info, Ann! I’ve got the petition up to “sign” it.

My one twin (13yrs olds) just asked if we’ll pack his lunch because the food is NOT good and he’s not been eating well. It’s also not cheap!

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