Monday, April 11, 2011

Controversy on a Cafeteria Lunch Tray

Unbelievable.

I want to thank Kristin over at RoundyRounds (an up and coming blog that started out highlighting the author's creative do-it-yourself wedding -- and has nothing whatsoever to do with homeschooling but is still a worthy read), for the link to the following article about a special new rule in one of Chicago's public schools.

Before you read the article, I would like you to consider what you feed your kids for lunch -- both at home and when you are out and about or they are at school (if your children go to school, that is -- and thanks for reading if they do, by the way).  On my worst day, the day when we are eating left-over miso soup for breakfast and washing the dishes with laundry soap because I just could not make it to the grocery store, I might offer our only two carrots, the last few eggs (boiled), the dregs from a box of cereal, left-over spaghetti, peanut butter pancake sandwiches from yesterday's pancakes, and tap water.

Even my ill-prepared lunches seem healthy next to the school lunch pictured in the article (admittedly not directly from the school in question, but this one is).  And yet, the school has banned -- that's right -- BANNED -- lunches from home, claiming that the school lunches offer healthier options.

Now, I am all for healthy lunches, in and out of schools, and have never been a fan of vending machines (well, except maybe when I was in school and ate corn nuts and Diet Coke for lunch every day).  I also feel frustrated that nearly every class my kids take outside of the homeschooling community centers around food (What child really needs a chocolaty, sugary snack in the middle of a class that runs from 1 - 2 o'clock?).  So my (creamed) beef with this school's rule is not about the freedom to eat whatever unholy piece of hydrogenated frankenfood a child wants.  My concern is that this school, with its processed, deep-friend tater tots and more-sugar-than-a-can-of-soda-but-they-have-calcium-so-they-must-be-healthy strawberry milks, claims it can do better than the average parent (of any income).

Really?

Because most parents love their children and want them to be healthy and successful.  And while we often fall short of ideal when it comes to feeding our children, shouldn't we get to participate in the choices they make for their diets?  And shouldn't we get to choose how we spend our food budget, rather than filling the coffers of the school cafeteria every day (at least one blog even suggests that the rule's main purpose is to garner more funds from the Federal Government)?

The aforementioned Kristin tagged this article with "another reason to homeschool".  Rules like these do serve to strengthen my resolve.  At the same time, not everybody can, wants to, or should homeschool.  So, for those whose kids are in school -- I beg you educational institutions, do not follow the example of Chicago's Little Village Academy Public School.  Instead, maybe you could put a little energy into googling the nutritional information for a typical school lunch, pictured below.

Strawberry Milk, 6 oz.: 134 calories, 21 grams sugar
White Hot Dog Bun: 120 calories, 220 mg. sodium
Hot dog: 180 calories, 560 mg. sodium
Tater Tots: 150 calories, 220 mg. sodium
I slice American Cheese: 60 calories, 250 mg. sodium
Pear Slices, 3: 70 calories, 15 g. sugar, 2 g. fiber
Ketchup, 1 T.: 15 calories, 167 mg. sodium
Baby Carrots, 3: 5 calories, 0 fiber

Total calories: 734
Total sodium: 1417 mg.
Total Sugar: 36 g.
Total Fiber: 2g.

Students who attend Chicago's Little Village Academy public school get nothing but nutritional tough love during their lunch period each day. The students can either eat the cafeteria food--or go hungry. Only students with allergies are allowed to bring a homemade lunch to school, the Chicago Tribune reports.
"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," principal Elsa Carmona told the paper of the years-old policy. "It's about ... the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke."
But students said they would rather bring their own lunch to school in the time-honored tradition of the brown paper bag. "They're afraid that we'll all bring in greasy food instead of healthy food and it won't be as good as what they give us at school," student Yesenia Gutierrez told the paper. "It's really lame."
The story has attracted hundreds of comments so far. One commenter, who says her children attend a different Chicago public school, writes, "I can accept if they want to ban soda, but to tell me I can't send a lunch with my child. ARE YOU KIDDING ME????"
For parents whose kids do not qualify for free or reduced price school lunches, the $2.25 daily cafeteria price can also tally more than a homemade lunch. "We don't spend anywhere close to that on my son's daily intake of a sandwich (lovingly cut into the shape of a Star Wars ship), Goldfish crackers and milk," Northwestern education policy professor Diane Whitmore Schanzenbach told the paper in an email. She told The Lookout parents at her child's public school would be upset if they tried to ban homemade lunches.
"I think that lots of parents at least at my child's school do think that what they pack is more nutritious [than school lunches]," she said.  A Chicago public school teacher started a blog to protest the city's school lunches, and last year the schools tightened their nutrition standards for cafeteria-served school lunches. Every lunch must contain whole grains, only reduced-fat salad dressings and mayonnaise are offered as condiments, and the meals must feature a different vegetable each day. Meal providers also must reduce sodium content by 5 percent annually. About 86 percent of the district's students qualify for free or reduced price school lunches because their families live close to the poverty line.
Change in Chicago's school cafeterias feeds into a larger effort to combat the country's childhood obesity epidemic. About a third of America's kids are overweight or obese, and since children consume at least 30 percent of their calories while in school, making lunches healthier is seen as one way to counter that problem. Poorer kids are also more likely to be obese or overweight than middle class kids, and to consume a bigger proportion of their calories while at school. Forty-four percent of American kids living below the poverty line are obese or overweight, according to a 2010 study published in Health Affairs.
While we haven't been able to track down another school that bans homemade lunches outright, many smaller food battles have been playing out in cafeterias across the country. As principals try to counter obesity in their schools, healthy intentions can come across as overreach, occasionally sparking parent and student anger.
Alabama parents protested a school's rule that barred students from bringing any drinks from home, as ice water was provided at lunch. East Syracuse, New York schools have outlawed cupcakes and other desserts. And schools around the country have kicked out chocolate milk and soda vending machines. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin even showed up in Bucks County, Pennsylvania, with dozens of cookies to express her disdain for a debate in the state about recommending teachers limit the number of times per month the sugary treats are eaten in classroom birthday celebrations.
Tucson, Arizona's Children's Success Academy allows home-packed lunches--but only if nothing in them contains white flour, refined sugar, or other "processed" foods, the Arizona Republic reported in a story last year. The school has no cafeteria, so some parents told the paper they struggled to find foods to pack that meet the restrictions. Many schools ban fast food or other take-out meals.
Soon, cafeteria offerings across the country will all be healthier, whether students like it or not. Last year's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, calls for higher nutritional standards to serve the 32 million kids who eat lunch every day at school (most of whom qualify for free or reduced price lunches through a federal government program). For the first time, the USDA will set calorie limits for school lunches, and will recommend they contain more vegetables and whole grains, and less salt,USA Today reports. French fries should be replaced by vegetables and fruit, the guidelines say.
The bill also calls for stricter food safety checks on cafeteria food.
(A student's lunch in Gleed, Washington: AP)

2 comments:

mrs. roundy said...

Thanks for the link LakeMom. Sorry if I offended you with my comment, "one more reason to homeschool"? That comment was more of a reflection of my feelings these days on public school rather than a comment on your cause. You see by nature of operating a teen center I see and know more of the workings of a public school than I care to. Well maybe I care to know but the reality is frustrating. I'm not very good at articulating my feelings on the interactions I have with our local schools; the food they serve is only a small portion of my discontent.

LakeMom said...

No offense at all Mrs. Roundy. I loved your comment. I just wanted to clarify that not all people are able to (or even want to ) homeschool.

I am a huge proponent for educational freedom. Schools who pull stunts like this are clearly NOT proponents of educational freedom. Thanks again for the article.

And thanks for your beautiful site! I've been passing it on to friends planning weddings and baby showers.

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