Friday, February 20, 2009

No School Lunch Left Behind

Here's an oped from today's Times by the great Alice Waters, talking about how to make school lunches more healthful. She points out that while things like candy and soda machines often get negative attention when they're placed in schools (and rightly so), school lunches that are no better (chicken nuggets, pizza, etc.) are served every day.

Every public school child in America deserves a healthful and delicious lunch that is prepared with fresh ingredients. Cash-strapped parents should be able to rely on the government to contribute to their children’s physical well-being, not to the continued spread of youth obesity, Type 2 diabetes and other diet-related problems. Let’s prove that there is such a thing as a good, free lunch.
She points out that this would require a commitment by the Agriculture Department to provide and deliver fresh ingredients, and from the Education Department "to teach students to choose good food and to understand how their choices affect their health and the environment." This last part is especially important, given that school lunches are predominantly for kids of limited income, who may not immediately like healthier choices given the fact that the unhealthy choices are full of fat and salt and all the things kids (and adults, for that matter) love. Also, kids may not be getting much better fare at home, especially if they're low income.

I did a volunteer day in my kids' school a couple of weeks ago, and they served chicken nuggets, bags of chips, a little plate of peas and a cookie. The peas, of course, were the most unappetizing looking things you could imagine, and I would venture to guess that no more than 5% of them were actually ingested by the children. (My kids bring lunch every day.)

This would be a lot more likely to happen if parents took an interest in this issue and pressured their school boards and elected officials to help make it happen. Here's a sample page from a parents group in California, with a lot of links to material about junk food, some of the health concerns, and letters to school boards and Congress.

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