In the last several months, several campaigns have started to raise awareness about what is served as part of a school lunch. I’m sure you’ve seen one if not several of them. My brother Ray recently sent me a not about another one suggesting it as a blog topic… took me a couple of days to get my thoughts together but I’m glad he prompted me to do this.
My background with school cafeterias is not really anything I want to remember. I was raised in the City of Memphis public schools with the exception of two years spent in a small local private school. As I recall (and family is welcome to offer corrections), we only used school food on a limited basis. Most of the time, we packed a simple lunch though there were some things on the school menu we would agree to eat. The two years at the private school were the first time I remember eating food that had been microwaved or something else. If we didn’t take lunch or buy a carefully selected menu item at school, we generally had a snack and played the schedule — our schools started early & ended early. We would get home starving and would eat something to help us wait for dinner which was usually inclusive of the four food groups. I should say lunch hour was general fun though — it was sort of free-time thought it rarely connected to food!
Some of the programs I’ve noticed included:
- Fed Up With Lunch: The School Lunch Project — This is one I learned about a very long time ago. It was sort of like Morgan Spurlock’s self challenge that was a documentary called “Super Size Me” which you can watch online. I have to say, I may not eat the healthiest or the tastiest food all of the time, but I don’t know that I would have the stamina to do either of these projects. With Mrs. Q, it became clear quickly that the school cafeteria is ot an appetizing place to be.
- Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution which was centered around the TV show of the same name. I watched all the episodes (I think) and have to admit that I was unsure where he was at the onset but I caught on quick and realized that he was headed a direction I could get behind. He encourages several actions of people: Signing the petition aimed to get better food in the schools, donating to a 501(c)3, get cooking at home and interact with people at your schools.
- Ray messaged me about the Time for Lunch campaign by Slow Food USA. They are encouraging people to contact their legislators about the need for healthier foods in the school. One of the interesting points of the Child Nutrition Act is its involvement with the Farm to School program. I’m not too familiar with it but conceptually love to idea of fresh food going from the farm to schools. I read through parts of the program and would love to hear from farmers participating — there wasn’t much on their discussion boards from this aspect. Anyone connected to this?
For me, I clearly remember Memphis City Schools trying to do something similar. It was when I was in eighth or ninth grade. My brother & sister had gone through school with Coke and chip machines in the “snack bar.” The only folks who went to the cafeteria were kids who were on the school lunch program, everyone else wanted in the snack bar where there were more windows, round tables and fewer teachers. The school system took out all of the Coke & snack machines and replaced them with Hi-C machines (if you don’t believe me ask @_sistahsweet_ — that’s her in the photo dressed up and on the far right). This was a change that really ticked people off!
What surprises me about this is the change (in hindsight) was made and there may have been a note sent to parents. I don’t remember a real educational effort around it. In fact, the health and nutrition information throughout school seemed to be incredibly lacking. That’s where I thought Jamie Oliver’s program differed. His commitment to keep explaining to look at the other issues is a real change from my experiences. And I see it on a much smaller scale at my sister’s house. Since the earliest days, my nephew was given snack choices that were healthy options as well as tasty. He’s always known certain things are better for him and frequently will pick those when he is in a store. Isn’t that what most of us would like to happen more broadly?
I’m not sure which needs to come first or whether they have to come simultaneously, but I believe the food we serve our kids at school must be better and we need to become much more learned about health and nutrition. Because so many families don’t seem to “get it,” kids don’t get the support of healthier meals at dinner time and lessons on how to make good choices in food. We need to help these kids “get it” now.
- They need to know food comes from farms not grocery stores & restaurants.
- They need to know that crap in will make you feel crappy. (Watch “Super Size Me” to see it and you won’t forget it.)
- They need to know that America’s farmers are the best — crops grown here are safe, abundant and more efficient than anywhere in the world which gives us the luxury of a very low percentage of income spent on food. How to spend that low percentage is something we should all think about.
What do you think about school lunches and nutrition education? What are your experiences?
Now that Ray got me thinking, I may need to write up some ideas around the way it worked in a poverty-stricken area I lived in. May do a follow-up post later.