Out To Lunch


School lunches.

You either loved them, or you hated them.  Or, maybe you were never allowed to try them if your mom was a die-hard brown bag advocate.

I was a buyer.  I still long for that sea foam-colored plastic lunch tray filled with a warm cheesy Johnny Marzetti casserole, garlic toast, apple sauce, green beans and a small piece of homemade Texas-style chocolate sheet cake.  All washed down by a small cardboard carton of whole milk.

Ever wonder why kids started eating lunch at school?

President Harry S. Truman began the national school lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security.  He started the program after reading a study that revealed many young men had been rejected from the draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition.

If you have a child in school, you are probably familiar with the changes in the school lunch menus as of late – all attributed to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.

A complete menu overhaul has taken place making whole grains, fruits and vegetables the star of the lunch tray, while trading bread, dessert and home cooked meals for government supplied “healthy” subsidies.

Doesn’t every kid want to chomp on a dish of radishes half-way through the day when they are starving because they’ve hit a growth spurt or require 4,000 daily calories because they are a student athlete?

Why am I writing about school lunches?  Because ironically, more kids are now going hungry because the portion sizes are limited and they are not eating any of the revamped meals.  Costs are also rising because substitutions come at a premium price.

So why not pack a lunch?

Yes, that is a viable option, but not one for kids on the free and reduced-cost breakfast and lunch programs.

Most lunch ladies are moms who work in the school system so they can keep the same hours as their school-aged children.  These are caring individuals who have traditionally kept an eye out for hungry children and would make sure their bellies were full and they received extra food if they needed it.

Food allergies aside, some school systems are even dictating what foods kids can bring from home and making them supplement their lunch by requiring them buy additional food if their meal doesn’t meet federal standards.

With the new program, the lunch ladies are not allowed to give out any extra food for free, even when they know that child may not eat again until they come to school the next morning.

And apparently, there is a tremendous amount of food being wasted between the kids not eating the new foods and school systems being required to meet regulated servings.

The following video was put together by kids in a school system in Kansas.  They are using humor to get across the point that they are starving and the new guidelines are unreasonable.

You’ll notice, the kids portrayal of their hunger isn’t exactly what President Truman had in mind to build up national security and not exactly what lunch ladies originally had in mind to give the kids energy to get them through the day.

© 2012 Terri Spilman

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16 thoughts on “Out To Lunch

  1. Oh, how I remember Johnny Marzetti! I agree, tho, school lunches are a joke. I know that when my son buys his lunch (very rarely) he doesn’t eat everything. No, they do not need chicken nuggets every day, but they do need something with a little substance. The one thing my son does like is that they get to choose 2 fruits with their meal-it’s probably the only thing he eats!

    • Our kids used to be able to choose two fruits if they didn’t want a vegetable, however, with the new guidelines, if they get an extra fruit, they are charged 75 cents. Kids that love fruit are blowing through lunch account money. Mine used to eat her school lunch most days, now she hardly eats them and we are gravitating towards packing, which hurts the program even more if no one buys lunch anymore. So sad.

  2. Terri, i so remember the lunch ladies yelling from one end of the gym, “I got tuna over here, he wants a pb and J instead, who’s got one??”

  3. You are totally in my wheel house now. I was actually planning to post about this very topic – however with a different angle.
    It has been a challenging year for everyone involved in Child Nutrition. You can’t imagine how complicated & confusing the new regulations are, and the short amount of time they were given to revamp their programs in order to comply. Most food processors/manufacturers aren’t even fully ramped up yet to supply the schools with products that are in compliance.

    There are however, school districts serving great, healthy, creative beautiful, and delicious food. I see examples every day. The high schoolers are the ones who will have the toughest adjustment – they have been in the system the longest, and are getting less bread, for sure. No more cheesy, yeasty dough balls calling themselves pizza! Going from eating iceberg to eating spinach and kale is pretty much going from 0 to 60! Glad you posted this from a “Customer’s” (Gracie’s) perspective, as well as yours as a Mom. The kids video is darling, too!

  4. As an Assistant Food Service Director for a very large district with a high percentage of free/reduced children, you have no idea how hard these changes have been. I find it ironic that just a short year and a half ago, Jamie Oliver was all over US television pointing out the shortcomings of American School lunch and it’s contribtion to the obesity problems we are now facing. I’m not an expert on the statistics, but we all know that at some point something like 50% of American children will be clinically obese. The irony is that we are now talking about children going hungry? Don’t be fooled, these kids will get Doritos and cokes no matter what we do in the school cafeteria. I strongly believe in putting vegetables on every plate and the older children will adjust and learn about healthy options. We are but a small cog in the big picture and althought it’s a huge challenge, I couldn’t be happier with the opportunity for change.

  5. I have 4 kids–2 in high school and 2 in grade school. Our grade school is very small, no cafeteria, so everyone brown bags it. You would be shocked at what some highly educated parents pack for their kids to eat at lunch. Sometimes it is downright deplorable and far from nutritious. I, of course, never fall in to that trap! Yeah, right. When my kids hit high school, they are beyond excited to see the myriad of choices available to them in the cafeteria. As a Freshman, my daughter stood in long lines for the pizza offerings. By Sophomore year, soup was the craze. Now as a Junior, the Fresh Market is the line of choice. A lot of the kids use half of their lunch period standing in the Fresh Market line because they love the food. My son is a sophomore at a different high school in a different state even. (We live on the state line of Indiana and Michigan). His public school is heavily funded by an Indian casino. Some of the funds are used for free breakfast for everyone and for expanded, healthier food choices for lunch. My son also loves the food his high school offers.
    In spite of–or because of?– the government mandates, both schools are serving lunches that my kids eat and enjoy.

    One caveat: I introduced sushi, brussels sprouts and other “bizarre” food by the time they could walk, so maybe my kids are just weirdos that like to eat!

    • Great comment! It’s so interesting to hear about your children’s different experiences. Especially the school that is funded by the Indian casino. It’s really a very complex issue – mandates vs. awareness, funding restrictions, actual minutes during the school day slotted for lunch,etc. It sounds like the kids really do like the healthy choices, especially as they get older. Good for you introducing those foods to your kids while they were infants. I really think that is key to raising a good eater.

  6. I personally grew up in France, where you have to eat the school food. Middle school cafeteria was the best, the rest was less than average quality and I was starving on most days (but I ate a lot, and still do). But it was overall healthy, so I can’t complain.

    I brown bag my son’s lunch every day because I’d hate wasting my money of school food he won’t eat. Not because it’s not good (although the menus don’t look very appetizing) but because he somehow eats nothing while there. So I pack his snack and lunch bag with tons of different things and hope he’ll eat some of it. But he’s like me, a slow eater who likes to take his time. Giving kids less than 15 minutes to eat lunch is ridiculous in my opinion. When I went to school, I had one whole hour, and that didn’t include playtime, just eating. Remember mealtime is sacred to the French!

    • We could learn something from the French! Fifteen minutes is not enough time. Less time standardized testing, and more time eating! My daughter is a slow eater too. I do the same thing you do. Pack several small things so something will look appealing.

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