School lunch brings up memories, nutrition, and the Obama girls

BlogHer Original Post

When I was in elementary school (lo those many years ago), I loved buying hot lunch. I thought it was delicious. And I doubt that my parents ever stopped to worry about whether or not it was sufficiently nutritious; surely it was better than whatever I probably would've packed for myself.

In high school, I took my lunch money and instead of buying the standard hot lunch, I went to the "snack bar" and generally bought myself a bagel with cream cheese and a soda for lunch. Every single day. Did I know that Sprite was not actually a food group? I don't recall, but I suspect it didn't matter even if I did.

These days, my children are an anomaly when it comes to school lunch: They bring lunch from home, but around here, almost everyone else buys their lunch. Last year my daughter was the only person in her class to brown-bag it. Of course, many of the kids who buy also think it's gross, which is unfortunate. Whether it's actually gross or not, it's supposedly nutritious, but when I stopped by one day at lunchtime to discover the cafeteria filled with children eating silver dollar pancakes and sausage, I had to wonder.

If you live in the DC metro area, you may have seen a campaign from urging reform of the Child Nutrition Act, but BV Black Spin's Carmen Dixon reports on the ad's controversial approach:

On posters appearing around Washington D.C.'s Union Station, a smiling 8-year-old vegetarian from a Florida public school asks the question: "President Obama's daughters get healthy school lunches. Why don't I?"


But I'm guessing that the ad's creators are misguided if they think their legislation will win any special attention from the president now that they've singled out the first daughters as a gimmick. After all, I'm sure that every federal legislator's kid has the opportunity to have a healthy lunch, particularly those in private schools. ...

Of course, the fact that the Obama children will be eating fancy private school food feels like a red herring, to me, in the argument for school lunch reform, but what do I know.

Tracy Stevens of A Better Education shared a great interview with "Renegade Lunch Lady" Ann Cooper, which concludes with these words of wisdom from Cooper:

I think what is important is that we need to make changes. We will either pay now for quality foods or we will pay later in a health care crisis. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has said that of the children born in the year 2000 one out of three Caucasians and one out of two Black and Hispanic people will have diabetes in their lifetimes, many by the time they graduate high school. They will be the first in our country’s history to die at a younger age than their parents. With all the money we spend on the war and corporate bailouts, we only spend $8.5 million on feeding 30 million kids, which is less than a dollar per student spent on food. When we live in a country where people spend $5 on their morning coffee, it seems reasonable to spend more on quality foods for children.

(I have been a huge fan of Ann Cooper ever since I wrote about her here nearly three years ago!)

Monroe on a Budget's Paula Wethington confesses that her daughter purchased hot lunch all through school, and that she doesn't think that choice flew in the face of frugality:

Was I a “bad” mother for having bought the school lunch? No. Specifically to my blog topic, do I ruin my “frugal” credentials for buying the school lunch? No. I did pack my daughter’s lunches during preschool years. I learned from experience that I could not prepare the equivalent of a school lunch for the same cost or lower of a school lunch on a regular basis. Since my daughter did not eat much of anything for breakfast in those days, I wanted her to have a good lunch. Solution = the kid got lunch money.

As something of a frugalista myself, I find it hard to believe that a comparable home-packed lunch can't be had for less money than what one pays at school, but I'm willing to believe it varies from one school to another. My kids' schools currently charge $1.35 for lunch. I'm sure I spend more than that on what I pack for them, but then, I also pack them fresh and/or organic ingredients, plenty of fruits and veggies, and foods I know they like. I just don't feel like our local school lunch offers the same. And if I think the meal is nutritionally void, really, does it even matter what it costs?

It's a heavy topic. No one wants to admit that maybe our kids aren't getting what they need in the very environment that's supposed to be supporting and nurturing them.

To lighten the mood, I'll leave you with two other links....

First, Question of the Day wants to know what your favorite hot lunch meal was (easy -- pizza, no question); and The Onion brings the funny while reminding us that True Lunch Waits.

But seriously... do your kids buy lunch at school? Why or why not?

BlogHer Contributing Editor Mir also blogs about issues parental and otherwise at Woulda Coulda Shoulda, and about the joys of mindful retail therapy at Want Not.


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