School lunch pros and cons

Another school year is upon us. Before sending their children to school, parents will weigh the pros and cons of participating in school lunch versus packing lunch at home. In addition to cost and convenience, nutrition is an obvious factor in this decision.

Image courtesy of the USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services SNAP-Ed Photo Gallery.

The federal government sets specific nutrition requirements for meals served in the school meal program. We’ve blogged before about the school nutrition standard changes made by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (HHFKA). The new meal pattern requirements were based on expert recommendations from the Institute of Medicine. The goal was to help reduce America’s childhood obesity epidemic and reduce health risks for children by providing more nutritionally balanced meals.

The school meal overhaul included more fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and decreased the amount of sodium and trans fat. Concerns were initially raised about the impact of the new nutrition standards on student participation and costs. In May of 2017, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), which funds and administers school meals at the federal level, delayed several of the planned changes on the basis that children weren’t eating the healthier school lunches. This ruling provided flexibilities to school meal programs on whole grain, sodium and milk requirements. Interestingly, other data from the USDA about HHFKA school meals implementation show positive participation trends. A recent study by the Harvard School of Public Health also contradicted criticisms when they found that the new school meal standards did not result in increased food waste and significantly increased fruit and vegetable consumption.

It’s clear that the changes in school meals resulted in improved child nutrition for the 30 million students who eat lunch served at school. A recent article published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics shows that eating school meals daily is associated with healthier dietary intakes. This includes eating more fruits, vegetables, dietary fiber, whole grains and calcium.

To receive federal reimbursements, school meal programs must offer reimbursable meals that meet current federal nutrition standards. The Farm Bill is passed every five years and the current version expires on September 30, 2018. The new Farm Bill might impact school meal meals.

Overall, nutrition spending makes up to 80% of the total budget for the Farm Bill. Of the programs covered by nutrition, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as Food Stamps, accounts for 95% of all spending. SNAP and school meal programs ensure access to healthy foods for over 16% of American households with children experiencing food insecurity. Nearly 14 million school-age SNAP participants were directly certified for free school meals during the 2014-2015 school year.

The Senate and House have both passed their own versions of the Farm Bill. Differences in the two bills will now be reconciled in a conference committee. The House Farm Bill directs the USDA to reevaluate school lunch regulations. The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the nation’s largest organization of food and nutrition professionals, has expressed support for the Senate’s version of the Farm Bill. Their letter asked the Farm Bill conference committee to “reject any amendments in the bill that would make harmful changes to nutrition programs.”

We hope that Congress will consider the health impact of more HHFKA rollbacks and prioritize child nutrition in future school meal regulations. The USDA reports that students across the country are experiencing a healthier school environment with more nutritious options due to the improved school meal standards. Schools can support students in making healthy choices and help them shape lifelong healthy eating behaviors.

Contents

University of Missouri

By Sam Rourke

1,000 dollars a month reads the income box of my computer screen as I check out another family at the Central Food Pantry. There stands a woman with four children by her side. I glance at her cart, full for now, but wonder how it will realistically last for an entire month given her paltry income. Inside her cart lies limited amounts of meat and produce and countless piles of donuts and processed food. This is the harsh reality that the pantry faces – the individuals at the pantry need as much food as they can get their hands on, but due to limited resources the pantry can often only provide cheap junk food. As I look at her four children, ranging from age 5-12, I am thankful that these children have the National School Lunch Program to rely on. Twice a day during the week, they can rely on their school to provide them a lunch and breakfast for free or an extremely reduced price.

But what are they really eating? A quick check of any school lunch menu around the country quickly reveals meals that aren’t exactly most people’s definition of “nutritionally-balanced” as the NSLP claims. Staples in my high school and countless others, were chicken nuggets, hamburgers, and mac & cheese. These were normally offered with some form of fried potato and an optional vegetable that many students didn’t take. Fortunately, I was in an economic position where I could choose most days to bring a healthy lunch from home to avoid the junk that the school gave out on a daily basis. However, for many in my town and across this nation school food is their only choice if they want to stave off hunger. Here in Boone County, 31.5 % of children receive free or reduced lunch, meaning they live at or near poverty and have no choice but to accept the food school’s present on a daily basis (“Kids Count Data Center”). The school lunch program is unable to meet the needs of those who rely on it daily for their daily sustenance and contributes to rising childhood obesity rates and poor school performance. In this paper, I advocate for workable solutions parents can take to improve the school lunch program and ensure it becomes an asset in a healthy diet rather than its current status as a hindrance with numerous negative consequences.

Beginnings of a Failure

The National School Lunch Program began in 1946 under Harry S. Truman as an effort to “safeguard the health and well-being of the nation’s children” (Gunderson 1). Since its inception the program has been the subject of continuous controversy as it struggles to meet the health needs of an ever-growing number of students. With over 1/3 of the nation’s children overweight or obese according to the Center for Disease Control, concerns over what children are consuming have become ever more prevalent among parents across the United States (“Obesity and Overweight”). Serving over 32 million children a year, the lunch program certainly plays a large role in what our nation’s children consume on a daily basis (“NSLP Fact Sheet”).

Rampant Regulations and Paltry Funding = Anything Becomes Acceptable

Funding is one of the obvious problems with the school lunch program and certainly the most criticized. Healthier foods simply cost more to make and many schools across the country don’t have the resources necessary to improve the quality of their food. The National School Lunch Program cost 10.8 billion to administer last year, a sharp increase from only 3.7 billion just 20 years ago (“NSLP Fact Sheet”). While NSLP receives some reimbursement for each lunch they sell, most of the funding comes through students paying for their meals. However, this amount continues to decrease as more and more students qualify for free and reduced lunch. According to a USDA fact sheet, 81.7 percent of meals in 2011 were given as a free or reduced lunch (“Child and Adult Care Food Program”). The program simply cannot support this percentage of children who pay very little back into the system and have their meals subsidized almost completely in their entirety.

While funding is certainly an issue, it is unrealistic to believe the government will be drastically increasing funding in today’s economic climate. Another significant problem is the unnecessary regulations that bog down the lunch system. A Fox News article from last winter, shows how off-based many of these regulations in the program are. A preschooler had to eat a school-supplied meal of chicken nuggets instead of eating their home-prepared lunch (“School Lunches Deemed Unacceptable”). Apparently their lunch of a turkey and cheese sandwich, a banana, apple juice and potato chips just wasn’t up to the high standards of the USDA. Jamie Oliver was also able to expose some of this illogical regulation through his “Food Revolution” show the past few years (Gunlock 1). The very first meal Oliver made was denied because it didn’t meet government standards. The problem? No bread. His lunch of roast chicken, brown rice, salad and yogurt with fresh fruit wasn’t good enough for the USDA. How was the school meeting the bread requirement for the day? Plain old white pizza crust. A couple episodes later Oliver again prepared a healthy meal consisting of a vegetable pasta dish, baked chicken, and a fruit cup. Again he was told the meal did not meet standards and thus would not be reimbursable. The problem this time? Not enough veggies. The solution? Add french fries (“Children, Parents, and Obesity”). These examples clearly illustrate how the inflexibility of school lunch regulations further exasperates the problem of unhealthy food. Many of these regulations are dictated by the large corporations that supply the industry, leading to such things as pizza sauce and fries inclusion in the vegetable category. In 2011, when the USDA was proposing changes to the program that would have decreased potato consumption and increased the amount of tomato needed to qualify for a vegetable serving, food companies jumped in to block the changes. According to an investigative article published in the New York Times, companies such as Con Agra and Del Monte spent 5.6 million lobbying congressional representatives to vote against the proposed revised standards (Nixon 1). This unfortunate example shows that many of the regulations within the system are set by large food suppliers desperate to keep their money, who have somehow convinced legislators that there product is the only thing kids will consume.

With these strict regulations and lack of funding to meet them, the USDA has begun to set a strikingly low standard for many of the products they end up doling out to children every day. The hottest topic regarding this lately has been the USDA’s continued acceptance of “pink slime”, despite the fact that McDonald’s and Taco Bell have rejected the concoction. The substance is made by “grinding together connective tissue and beef scraps normally destined for dog food” (Knowles 1). Microbiologist Carl Custer, a 35-year veteran of the Food Safety Inspection Service, stated, “My objection with having it (the pink slime) in the schools is that it’s not meat” (Knowles 1). It is a pretty sad state when we are feeding millions of kids something that we aren’t even really sure what to call it. In my own high school, we had a regular main dish called the “panther rib.” After three years of eating it, I’m still not really quite sure what the concoction was made of. I personally avoided it whenever possible, but most other kids reluctantly ate it with no other choice in hand. The few times I did eat it, I actually thought it was pretty good, but I couldn’t get over the fact that I wasn’t sure what I was eating. Daily lunches, like the one chronicled above, that leave parents unsure of what their children are eating on a daily basis are not acceptable to any healthy society.

Mentally and Physically Unhealthy Children

School lunches are often blamed as a contributing factor in the ever- increasing rates of obesity in children. A recent study by the University of Michigan found that 38% of students who routinely eat school lunch were overweight or obese, as compared to only 24.4% of children who bring their own meals (Bruske). This may have something to do with the fact that 91.2% of the children who brought lunch from home consumed fruits or vegetables on a regular basis as compared to only 16.3% of children eating school food (Bruske 1). According to a 2009 Center for Disease Control study, obesity costs the U.S. 147 billion in health costs every year and that number continues to rise as obesity rates rise among children and all age groups (CDC’s LEAN Works! – A Workplace Obesity Prevention Program).

While weight gain is a serious consequence and the most commonly discussed, children face many other consequences tied to reliance on school lunch as well. A study in Canada published in the Journal of School Health found that students who eat a diet rich in fruit, vegetables, protein and fiber, coupled with less fat calories, did better on their literacy tests than those eating foods high in salt and saturated fat. (Asbridge,Florence,Veugelers). Additionally healthyschoollunches.org, a website dedicated to improving school food, states that more than 70 percent of schools struggle to meet the maximum saturated fat requirement set forth by USDA. Add in the fact that a disproportional amount of students who rely on school lunch come from poor families and you can see how the school lunch program contributes to poorer children being fatter and less academically successful. The effects don’t stop there as inadequate nutrition can also severely hamper a child’s cognitive development according to the American Psychological Association (“Changing diet and exercise for kids”). Every parent wants their child to perform well in the classroom, but every day you allow your child to consume school lunch you hamper their ability to be a star student.

Fight for More Funding

Concerned parents and any caring citizen all over this country need to continue to remain vigilant in the fight for improvements to school lunches. Over the past couple of years it seems lawmakers are finally hearing the cries of citizens concerned for the health of our nation’s children. Congress passed the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act last year as the first major overhaul of the program in 15 years (Wootan 1). Under the new regulations, schools will be required to offer fruits and vegetables every day, increase the amount of whole-grain foods and reduce the sodium and fats in the foods served, according to an MSNBC article (Wood 1). However, they will only be getting a .06 cent increase in funding per meal, presenting many schools with the hard task of meeting healthier standards with a very unsubstantial increase in funding. Improving the standards is an important step, but this solution alone won’t create any substantial change. Increased funding is always welcome but there have been many attempts on the federal level to increase support for nutritious eating and all have largely failed up to this point.

Make your Kitchen Reflect the Change you Want

The next solution as these regulations come into place is to actually get children to eat the foods put on their plates. This is where parents can really make the greatest effort. It is easy to blame the government for failing to feed children healthy foods and that is what many of us do. However, the foods children are exposed to at home play a vital role in their willingness to accept healthier food at school. If a child never consumes vegetables or fruit at home why should they be expected to magically consume these items at school? One key step parents can take is to take the time out of their hectic schedules to sit down and have a family meal together. Family meals increase the likelihood that children will eat fruits, vegetables, and grains and decreases the likelihood of them snacking on unhealthy foods, according to the website Kidshealth (“Healthy Eating”). Another important step for parents is making sure to feed their children a healthy breakfast. According to the American Dietetic Association, children who eat breakfast perform better in the classroom and on the playground, with better concentration, problem-solving skills, and eye-hand coordination (“The Many Benefits of Breakfast”). By providing a healthy breakfast and sitting down for a healthy dinner in the evening, parents can play an important step in ensuring their children are receiving the proper nutrition that may be missing from their child’s school lunch. And feeding your child at home isn’t the expensive venture many make it out to be. A recent New York Times article entitled “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?”, pointed out that a meal for four at McDonalds costs around $28 dollars while a meal of chicken, vegetables, salad, and milk can be made for only $14 dollars. With proper planning and budgeting parents can make serving healthy food at home a reality without emptying their wallets.

Get Involved at School as Well

It doesn’t just have to be at home that parents and concerned citizens can get involved in ensuring the quality of your children’s food. In a journal article entitled, “A Revolution in School Lunches” Douglas McGray takes a look at some of the positive reforms in regards to school lunches across America. McGray profiles a company called Revolution Foods, a fast-growing for-profit company that caters healthy breakfasts and lunches to mostly lower-income schools, as an example of positive reform in cafeterias across America. The company’s executive chef, Amy Klein, acknowledges the challenges of getting children to eat healthy food, but through careful techniques she has been able to feed approximately 30,000 kids (McGray 50). Another prime example of adults taking action has occurred in Appleton, Wisconsin over about the last decade, as profiled in a report prepared for Sen. Russ Feingold by Natural Ovens, the initiative’s founding company. In 1997, Natural Ovens, from nearby Manitowoc, began the program to bring healthy foods into local schools. Since that time Appleton’s program has experienced a remarkable turnaround in student behavior with Principal LuAnn Coenen reporting a dramatic decrease in dropouts, expulsions, drug use, and possession of weapons among students. Though the program has cost the school district some extra money to provide healthier food Coenen said repeatedly in the article that it has been well worth it because of decreases in violence, vandalism, and litter, which has reduced costs in other areas (“A Different Kind of School Lunch”). These examples highlight how when parents and concerned adults do take action real change does occur. Parents need to make it a prerogative to be creative and come up with solutions to improve the food situation at their child’s school. Maybe it’s a garden outside, a weekly farmer’s market field trip, or a complete overhaul of the lunch program like these two districts did. Whatever it is, make a promise to not be content with the status quo and be willing to step up and be the initiator of the change you want to see in your child’s school.

Parting Words of Wisdom

As the waistlines of America’s children continue to expand, numerous factors play a role. Undoubtedly one of the factors responsible are the nutrient deficient and often unhealthy meals provided everyday by the National School Lunch Program to over 32 million children. Children who eat these meals are more likely to be overweight and suffer many other consequences as well, including decreased school performance and cognitive development. As a parent, each one of you wants the best for your child. It is time for you to start realizing that what you feed your child has a direct correlation to many important factors. An easy step is to take matters in to your own hands and make your child a healthy lunch everyday. However, if that doesn’t sound reasonable parents can at least take control of what they feed their child at home. You need to take action by ensuring you feed your child a healthy breakfast to start the day. Then when evening comes and the urge to stop by McDonald’s for dinner arises, you have to be able to resist and instead choose to prepare a healthy meal at home. These children that are exposed to healthy options at home will be more likely to choose more nutritious options when in line for school lunch. These children will then be prepared to perform well in school, on the athletic field, and maintain a healthy body weight through their childhood and into the future. In other words, any parents wish for their child.

Reference List

Bittman, Mark. “Is Junk Food Really Cheaper?”. The New York Times. 24 Sept. 2011. Web. 27 April 2012.

Bruske, Ed. “New study says school food makes kid fatter”. Grist. 15 March 2010. Web. March 2012.

“CDC’s Lean Works! – A Workplace Obesity Prevention Program”. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nov. 16 2011. Web. April 2012.

“Changing Diet and Exercise for Kids.” American Psychological Association. Web. April 2012.

“Child and Adult Care Food Program.” USDA. April 2012. Web. April 2012. http://www.fns.usda.gov/pd/ccsummar.htm

Gunlock, Julie. “Children, Parents, and Obesity.” National Affairs. Winter 2011. Web. April 2012.

“Healthy Eating.” Kids Health. Feb. 2012. Web. April 2012.

“Kids Count Data Center.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. 2008. Web. April 2012.

Knowles, David. “Partners in Slime.” The Daily. Winter 2012. Web. 25 March 2012.

“NSLP Fact Sheet.” USDA. October 2011. Web. March 2012.

“Obesity and Overweight.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. June 21 2010. Web. April 2012.

“School lunch deemed unacceptable.” Fox News. Fox News Channel, 14 Feb. 2012. Web. 15 March 2012.

Suddath, Claire. “School Lunches”. Time Magazine. Oct. 2009. Web. 13 March 2012.

Wood, Sylvia. “Students to see healthier school lunches under new USDA rules”. MSNBC.com. 25 Jan. 2012. Web. March 2012.

Wootan, Margo. “A Landmark Step As The Child Nutrition Bill Is Signed In To Law”. Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution. 22 Dec. 2010. Web. 25 March 2012.

Zelman, Kathleen. “The Many Benefits of Breakfast” Healthy Eating and Diet. Web MD, Summer 2007. Web. 26 April 2012.

The pros and cons of the new school meal guidelines

Pizza will still be counted as a vegetable under the new USDA nutrition guidelines. (Deb Lindsey for The Washington Post)

But today, after reviewing the guidelines, Nestles almost sounded startled.

“They’re not bad. What a surprise,” she says during a phone call. “What really surprised me, and what I knew I had to check, was how deviant they were going to be from what the Institute of Medicine originally recommended. In fact, they followed the IOM recommendations very, very closely. There’s some minor differences. The major differences are the ones that Congress intervened with. If Congress hadn’t intervened, they would have done basically what the Institute of Medicine said.”

But Congress did intervene, and, as a result, some of the guidelines were weakened, including those intended to limit potato consumption and to stop counting a slice of pizza as a serving of vegetables.

“The Institute of Medicine had recommended a greater variety of vegetables and specifically put starchy vegetables in another category . . . to try to get kids familiar with different kind of foods,” Nestle says. “It seemed like a really good idea to me. Nobody’s saying they can’t eat potatoes.”

“Aside from that and the pizza-as-vegetable thing, they really followed the Institute of Medicine’s guidelines . . . which means that they’re based in science and based in policy and doing what they’re supposed to do,” the nutritionist adds. “I’m kind of surprised they got away with it . . . I thought there would be a lot of backtracking. I just don’t see it.”

The difficulty with implementing the guidelines, Nestle says, is that school meal programs are “completely person-dependent.

“You can go into a school that has people who are dedicated to the idea that feeding children is God’s work, and the food will be good and the kids will be eating it,” she says. “You go into a school where people couldn’t care less? The kids don’t eat , and it goes into the garbage.”

“So that’s a problem,” Nestle continues. “You have to deal with the people you have on hand, and if they want to make it work, they’ll make it work. If they don’t care, they won’t make it work.”

Nestle gives a large chunk of credit to first lady Michelle Obama, who has been championing better childhood nutrition as part of her Let’s Move campaign. “This is Michelle Obama’s leadership that able to pull this off,” Nestle says flatly.

In contrast to Nestle’s praise, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine issued a news release today condemning the new nutrition standards. It should be noted that PCRM promotes a vegan diet.

“Meat, cheese and junk are still front and center in school lunches,” said Susan Levin, PCRM nutrition education director, in the release. “The new USDA guidelines still do not require schools to offer meatless entrees or nondairy beverage options to all students. Meat, milk and cheese are packed with calories and saturated fat, and they play a huge role in the obesity epidemic.”

You can read the full release here.

To reduce waste and bring back students who have opted to pack a lunch or, in the case of high school students, go off campus for fast food, his district’s cafeterias have installed stir-fry stations with abundant vegetables so students can have meals made to order. And he’s added spice bars so kids can enliven the bland, low-salt fare.

In Minneapolis, Mr. Weber is phasing out processed food in favor of more scratch-made meals prepared in full on-site kitchens that are being installed in all his district’s 62 schools over a six-year period. He has also partnered with local chefs to sponsor “Junior Iron Chef Contests,” where students compete to come up with cafeteria recipes. There are also Minnesota Thursdays where everything on the menu is locally sourced.

For Ann Cooper, food services director at the Boulder Valley School District in Colorado and a longtime proponent of farm-to-table cafeteria food as well as school gardens and cooking classes, this trend toward fresher food and student engagement is evidence that the federal legislation is working.

“We have to educate the kids about healthy eating,” she said. “If a kid wasn’t reading at grade level we would work harder to get them to read at grade level, but with food we’ve somehow abdicated that part of their education.”

The Department of Agriculture is urging Congress to reauthorize the act to give children and cafeteria operators enough time to adjust. But farm-fresh food, scratch cooking and nutrition education cost money that less affluent school districts like Detroit Public Schools don’t have. The solution there was to take advantage of the Community Eligibility Provision (C.E.P.) in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allows high-poverty districts to provide free meals to all students. That way they get more money from the government and don’t have to rely so much on sales to better-off students who have other options.

“I lost a million dollars that first year the regulations took place,” said Betti Wiggins, executive director of Detroit Public Schools’ Office of Nutrition. Now, thanks to C.E.P. as well as eliminating choices of entrees in lower grades and cycling her menus more often (12 days versus 20 days) to control inventory, her department is back in the black. And kids are starting to come around to reformulated entrees like three-bean vegetarian chili with cornbread and low-fat breaded chicken patties.

“This is an obesity crisis,’’ she said, “and we’ve gotten rid of health classes and P.E., so we’re back to the lunch lady and the tray.”

Frozen, mushy fruit cup. Photo Credit: Itzel Perez

Low Quality

Until the late 1990’s everything served at our school was made from scratch. In fact, listen to how lunch used to be before Aramark. Interview with RHS science teacher and alum Pedro Alegre:

Today, our lunch at Roosevelt is no better than the ones in Cook County prison. In fact Aramark is the food service provider for both institutions. Prisons only care about one thing when it comes down to meals- that it has enough nutrients for what the human body needs, it doesn’t matter if it tastes or smells bad. One online review of the prison food shows that prisoners get better food from Aramark than we do. For example they have corn muffins, steamed carrots, green beans, also mac and cheese. They also drink Kool-Aid.

Photo Credit: Celeste Hernandez

Meanwhile at Roosevelt we get the same thing all over again with two options, pizza or hamburger. Often our milk and fruit cups are completely frozen. The fruit is still being served even when it’s spoiled and the fruit cups become soggy and mushy. Another example is sandwiches. The sandwiches only have ham OR cheese, not both and the bread is stale. Prisons get more options we consider to be good. This is why many students don’t eat the food and starve until they get home.

Frozen Applesauce. Photo Credit: Itzel Perez

Limited Menu

The CPS lunch menu shows us what we are going to have for lunch every week. At Roosevelt High School they constantly rotate either hamburger, chicken patty or pizza. Every once in a while they’ll add a veggie burger, quesadilla, or nachos but they are not appetizing. Other schools have more options. We remember Michelle Obama wanting to get CPS students to eat healthy. What we are eating is not healthy; sometime it’s exasperating. Lunch time is the time where you eat and enjoy your free time. It’s supposed to be the place where students get the best healthy lunches like salads, sandwiches, fresh fruits, etc. Instead they give some gross, unhealthy food. There is no variety, and the only thing to drink every day is milk or water. We want greater variety in our lunch options.

The Chicken Patty. Photo Credit: Alexis Navarro

Unhealthy

How healthy is our food really? We are teens, we are growing and we need foods that will assist with our development. In the 1980s this school used to have food so good that people from the community used to come to RHS to eat. (Listen to Mr. Alegre’s interview above). How can we go from that to now, when CPS treats Freedom of Information Act requests for lunch ingredients like a joke? When we finally received the information, we find that most meat products contain a lot of preservatives and fillers like soy protein. (CPS reveals that the only ingredients in its chicken nuggets are…chicken nuggets!)

Students are supposed to gain their energy back and eat a healthy lunch, but lunch is something hungry students don’t look forward to. Many students have gotten to the point where they don’t eat lunch at all. One reason for this is because the hamburger meat is discolored and dry. This is because it is cooked off site, frozen, then reheated at school, according to lunch ladies. The tomatoes have bad spots and the lettuce is wilted and brown. The fruit cups are often frozen or mushy. The pizza is so greasy you can put a napkin on it and soak up a lot of grease. Sometimes the milk is warm which means it hasn’t been in the fridge and could be spoiled. Since the food is reheated, sometimes it’s soggy and it could lose some nutrients. If any person came to check out the food Aramark serves its students they would agree it’s unhealthy. If we had a better lunch, we could have the energy to pay attention in class and not fall asleep or lose concentration.

Our school lunches aren’t the healthy choices advertised. Lots of people at RHS don’t eat meat. Sometimes the fruit is overripe and tastes bad. Students really want a change in the menu, other schools have better options while we get the same food repeatedly for weeks, months, and throughout the school year.

The Pizza: Often burnt, the cheese tastes like plastic.

Photo Credit: Alaa Farge

Bad taste

School lunch is unpleasant. Not many people eat it or if they do it’s because they have no choice. The chicken sandwiches taste abnormal; it seems like the chicken patties are not fresh. Sandwiches that have cheese and cucumber taste bitter. The cheeseburgers are dry and are unpleasant to eat. The pizza crust is hard and burnt. Sometimes the bread is stale and the milk is warm, or frozen and we don’t have anything to drink. The beans are hard and the salads are soft, wilted and some leaves are black.

In our interview with RHS lunch ladies, we learned that the food was much higher quality 2 years ago and tasted much better. The chicken was farm fresh and the pizza sauce was made from scratch. Some of the lunch ladies have been at Roosevelt for 14 years or more. There used to be four lines open, not two, and we had a lot more variety. Our lunch ladies said the food is all processed now but before 1989, everything was made from scratch.

It’s a real shame about school lunch


A third-grader punches in her student identification to pay for a meal at Gonzales Community School in Santa Fe, N.M., in 2017. (Morgan Lee/AP)By Valerie StraussValerie Strauss Reporter covering education, foreign affairs Reporter August 1, 2019

School lunch shouldn’t be a topic of controversy, yet, somehow, it is — and this isn’t about the taste of the food.

For one thing, the Trump administration has proposed a change in the rules governing who qualifies for food stamps through the program known as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), and critics say they fear this could hurt millions of people, including children who qualify for free lunch at school because their family is low-income.

About 40 million low-income people received SNAP benefits in 2018, and under the proposed revisions, at least 3 million could lose benefits. That includes about half a million students who could lose access to free lunch at school, according to critics of the plan. NBC news reported:

The Trump administration determined that more than 500,000 children would no longer be automatically eligible for free school meals under a proposed overhaul to the food stamp program, but left that figure out of its formal proposal, according to House Democrats.

The move by the administration sparked denunciations from many corners, including from the co-founders of Revolution Foods, Kristin Groos Richmond and Kirsten Saenz Tobey, who said in a statement:

By changing the eligibility provisions, the unfortunate and harmful proposed changes to the SNAP program could compromise food access for millions of families in need as well as potentially inhibit the ability for our youth to achieve their true potential in and out of school.

Then there is the continuing problem of something called “lunch shaming,” a particularly disturbing practice by some school districts, which take action against students whose parents don’t pay their lunch bills. A 2014 report by the U.S. Department of Agriculture found that in the 2011-12 school year, nearly half of all school districts allowed lunch shaming in one form or another to try to push parents to pay their children’s lunch bills. It took until 2017 for New Mexico to pass the first law in the country to prohibit the practice.

In some places, adults in school buildings have given children a snack or nothing at all in place of lunch until the payments are made. They have reprimanded children while they were standing in line for lunch, stamped their hands as a reminder to their parents to pay up, and taken other inexplicable action against kids.

Now a number of states have passed laws to stop lunch shaming, including California, Hawaii, Oregon and Texas — but not all of them. Pennsylvania outlawed it but recently changed its mind.

Explaining all of this is Steven Singer, a veteran National Board-certified teacher in Pennsylvania with a master’s degree in education. He is also a father and author of “Gadfly on the Wall: A Public School Teacher Speaks Out on Racism and Reform.” A version of this appeared on his lively Gadfly on the Wall blog, and he gave me permission to publish it.

By Steven Singer

There are few things as bad as a hungry child, hunched over an aching stomach as the school day creeps toward its end.

It’s harder to learn when you’re malnourished and in pain — and one in six children live with hunger in America today.

It should be at least as hard for adults to let them go hungry. Yet for some policymakers, it seems that the real problem is feeding children and letting their parents avoid paying the bill.

About 75 percent of U.S. school districts report students who end the year owing large sums for lunches, according to the School Nutrition Association. Of those districts, 40.2 percent said the number of students without adequate funds increased last school year.

In fact, now lunch debt has become a central issue along side child hunger.

Policymakers at the federal, state and school district level are finding new ways to force impoverished parents to pay for their children’s meals even if doing so means penalizing the children.

The Trump administration recently announced a plan to tighten eligibility requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) that could result in hundreds of thousands of the poorest children losing automatic eligibility for free school lunches.

In my home state of Pennsylvania, a district made headlines by threatening to send kids to foster care if their parents didn’t pay up. The state legislature even voted in June to reinstate lunch shaming — the practice of denying lunch or providing low-cost meals to students with unpaid lunch bills.

That is how America treats its children.

Throughout the country, students whose families meet federal income guidelines can receive free or discounted lunches. However, many families don’t know how to apply to the program or that they can do so at any point in the school year. Moreover, districts can minimize debt if they help families enroll.

Unfortunately, too many school administrators are opting on coercion and threats instead of help. In the poorest districts, a federal program called community eligibility has been providing relief.

When 40 percent of children in a district or school qualify for free or reduced meals, the federal government steps in to provide free breakfasts and lunches to all students in the district or school regardless of parental income. It’s an enormously successful program that avoids the pitfalls of penalizing or shaming students for their economic circumstances.

But it’s exactly what’s come under fire by the Trump administration.

The Department of Agriculture’s new proposed limits on which students should qualify for free meals could change the status of 265,000 children. This would cause a chain reaction at many districts making them unqualified for community eligibility.

It would literally take away free meals from whole neighborhoods of youngsters.

The Agriculture Department will accept public comments on the proposed rule, called revision of categorical eligibility in the SNAP, for 60 days. This measure is exactly the opposite of what’s being proposed by Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vermont). Instead of reducing the numbers of children who can get free meals, Sanders wants to increase the numbers to include everyone, proposing a federal program to feed all students year-round.

This approach flies in the face of most other measures offered to deal with the problem. And one of the worst offenders is Wyoming Valley West School District in Pennsylvania.

Though one of the poorest in the state as measured by per-pupil spending, administrators sent letters to dozens of families demanding they pay their children’s school lunch debt or their kids could be taken away on the basis of neglect.

The former coal mining community fed poor children but felt bad about it. School administrators were so incensed that these kids parents didn’t pay, they resorted to fear and intimidation to get the money owed.

Children can’t control whether their parents can pay their bills. But that didn’t stop administrators from taking out their disdain for impoverished parents on these youngsters.

In the Valley district, parents had run up approximately $22,000 in breakfast and lunch debt. This is a fraction of the school district’s $80 million annual budget and could have been reduced had administrators concentrated on helping parents navigate the system.

Instead they simply demanded parents pay — or else. After sending mailers, robocalls, personal calls and letters to families, administrators took more drastic measures.

About 40 families whose children owed $10 or more were sent a letter signed by Joseph Muth, director of federal programs for the district, which said:

“Your child has been sent to school every day without money and without a breakfast and/or lunch. This is a failure to provide your child with proper nutrition and you can be sent to Dependency Court for neglecting your child’s right to food. If you are taken to Dependency court, the result may be your child being removed from your home and placed in foster care.”

When the story hit the national media, experts from across the country weighed in that this was a bogus claim. Parents cannot have their children taken away because they can’t pay for school lunches.

And district officials have apologized and vowed not to make these kinds of threats in the future.

Perhaps the best news is that the district’s increasing poverty has qualified it to take part in community eligibility in the fall. All students would get free meals regardless of their parents income — unless, of course, the Trump administration’s new SNAP eligibility goes into place.

In that case, the district could continue to twist parents arms in a futile attempt to get blood from a stone. But don’t look for help from Harrisburg.

In June, the state legislature voted on annual revisions to its school code which brought back lunch shaming. Now districts that aren’t poor enough for community eligibility will be able to deny lunches to students who can’t pay or provide them a lower quality meal until parents settle any lunch debts.

It’s a surprising about-face from a legislature that only two years ago voted to end this policy. Now lawmakers are going back to it.

Republicans are claiming this is a solution to districts racking up thousands of dollars in lunch debt. Democrats are claiming ignorance. Many state representatives and state senators are saying they didn’t read the full bill before voting on it.

Lawmakers are actually saying they were surprised that lunch shaming was back. Yet it was many of these same lawmakers who voted for the omnibus bill that reinstates it.

The only difference between the old lunch shaming bill and the new one is the threshold for inclusion. The old measure allowed schools to provide “alternative meals” to children with $25 or more in unpaid lunch bills. The new measure inserted into the school code allows alternative meals for students who owe $50 or more. Students could be fed these lower quality meals until the balance is paid or until their parents agree to a repayment plan.

Stories about student lunch debt have been all over the news.

Yogurt company Chobani paid off a large chunk of a Rhode Island districts $77,000 lunch debt in May after administrators threatened to feed kids sunflower seed butter and jelly sandwiches until their debt was paid.

The same month a New Hampshire lunchroom employee was fired for letting a student take food without paying. The employee said the student owed $8 and she was confident the child would eventually pay her back. A Minnesota high school even tried to stop students with lunch debt from attending graduation.

Will America continue to prioritize late-stage capitalism over ethical treatment of children? Or will we rise up to the level of our ideals?

That has been the challenge for this country since its founding. And the answer is far from assured.

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Unhealthy School Lunches Not Making the Grade

By: Amanda Ray Filed under: Culinary

January 22, 2015

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Processed foods that are high in fat, sugar, and salt have become a mainstay of lunches in schools across America and the results are in — experts say these unhealthy school lunches are a contributing factor to the childhood obesity epidemic. A movement is afoot to bring change to school lunch programs across the country.

“We can do a tremendous amount of good for kids across the country if we change school lunches,” says Chef Ann Cooper, the self proclaimed “renegade lunch lady.” Cooper is an author, educator, and chef.

Cooper and others are tackling the problem head on, bringing awareness to the issue of unhealthy school lunches. Change isn’t happening easily or quickly, but advocates remain hopeful they can impact the childhood obesity problem in America.

An estimated 17% of children and adolescents ages 2-19 years are obese according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The possible consequences of childhood obesity can range from physical complications such as diabetes and high blood pressure, to social problems like low self-esteem and depression. And those problems can lead to children who don’t perform as well in school.

Simply put: “healthy students are better learners,” according to Rochelle Davis, the founding Executive Director for the Healthy Schools Campaign.

“What’s wrong with school lunches is what is wrong with all the food we’re eating — it’s not just in the schools,” Davis says. “One of the biggest deficits is the lack of fruits and vegetables and whole grains.”

But there are many obstacles to improving unhealthy school lunches, not the least of which is money. Schools receive $2.68 for each free meal served through the National School Lunch Program, a federal meal program.

That $2.68 must cover payment not just for the food, but also any labor, facility, and structural costs a school incurs. Additionally, schools are mandated to use part of that money for milk purchases.

“It’s hard to have a meal that is less processed on less than a dollar even when you’re working with a big school system,” Davis says.

Another obstacle to addressing the problem is that some schools have given contracts to food management companies. Cory Schreiber, Culinary Instructor at The Art Institute of Portland, says the contracts amount to one of the biggest changes to school lunches. It’s also one that can cause more problems.

“The quality goes down; they have purchasing powers,” he says. “There’s no reason in the world that money should offer a profit. But they know how to manage the subsidies.”

Schreiber adds that the blame doesn’t lie with those companies since they lack incentives to make any changes to unhealthy school lunches. Change should come from the government with a federal nutrition program, he says.

According to the Food Research and Action Center, 31.2 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program through more than 101,000 schools and residential child care institutions during the 2008-09 school year. “On a typical school day,” the center notes, “19.4 million of these 31.2 million total participants were receiving free or reduced price lunches.”

The government isn’t entirely ignoring the issue of unhealthy school lunches. The Healthy School Meals Act of 2010 (H.R. 4870) was introduced in Congress in March and referred to committee. A key provision is a pilot program for selected schools to offer plant-based protein products and nondairy milk substitutes.

Meanwhile, some changes are slowly happening to unhealthy school lunches thanks to the non-profit world and the schools themselves. One example is that of chef and author Alice Waters and her edible schoolyard project, a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at a middle school in California. Another way to find money for changes, Schreiber suggests, is getting volunteers into the school kitchens to eliminate labor costs.

“When changes come they’re not made within the current infrastructure,” he adds. “They come through grants, volunteers, and the edible school yard example.”

Schreiber says the garden model is a good one because it gets kids involved in learning more about agriculture.

Sometimes very simple changes, such as placing bowls of fruits and vegetables on the lunchroom tables while children are waiting for their meas, can have positive effects when it comes to combating unhealthy school lunches, says Lisa Bennett, Communications Director for the Center for Ecoliteracy.

“It’s always interesting and encouraging to check out the stories of schools that have done things differently,” she says. “Very simple changes can have a big effect.”

Bennett says reversing lunch and recess times helps kids settle down when it’s time for lunch.

While still problematic, unhealthy school lunches and childhood obesity situations are getting attention and Bennett says there is some positive change happening.

“The good news is that a lot of schools have found creative ways around it,” she says.

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By: Amanda Ray Filed under: Culinary

January 22, 2015

school lunches unhealthy lunch unhealthy school lunches

10 Reasons to Avoid School Lunches like the Plague

If I asked you what you had for lunch, you could probably tell me without hesitation. If I asked what your child had for lunch at school, could you answer just as easily? Even if you know the lunch menu, what’s actually in the school lunches may be a mystery. A look at one school’s burger found it had 26 ingredients. Among those 26 components, it contained disodium inosinate, a flavor additive that can spike heart rate, and caramel color, which contains sulfites and ammonia. Labdoor Magazine explains “processing carbohydrates with ammonia under high temperatures can produce a toxic byproduct, 4-methylimidazole (4-MeI), which has been linked to convulsions and an increased incidence of cancer in animal testing.” These types of chemical compounds, and many others, are prevalent in the processed foods served at schools, as well as in these processed foods to avoid feeding your children.

The topic of school lunches is, without a doubt, a hot-button issue for a number of reasons. It has become a political issue as of late, an ongoing issue of cost for public schools, but, most importantly, it is an issue which directly involves the well-being of our children. This article isn’t to debate the free lunch program that provides meals to children who would otherwise have none. I think we are all in agreement that children should not go hungry. This is article is an in-depth look at the ingredients and chemicals in school lunches and their effects on our children.

In 2010, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act set out to better the health standards of food served in schools. Although it is an improvement, the system still has flaws. American school lunches haven’t caught up to their European counterparts. France banned vending machines in schools in 2004. The European Union has also banned a number of chemicals in food which are still permitted for consumption in the US. These chemical ingredients were banned for their dangerous effects. For example, azodicarbonamide is banned in the UK, Europe, and Australia. Why? It can cause worsened allergy symptoms and can cause asthma if inhaled.

Even if actual fast food isn’t allowed in schools, that doesn’t mean the fast food companies aren’t infiltrating school grounds. Even Mamavation’s own founder discovered her son’s school was giving the students a coupon for a free McDonald’s breakfast. It’s a common practice. So common that companies spent $150 million marketing foods and beverages in elementary, middle, and high schools, according to stats from 2009.This predatory marketing has been shown to impact the choices children make when selecting food at school.

Here are 10 reasons you should avoid school lunches like the plague and opt for a wholesome packed lunch instead:

Disclosure: Bookieboo LLC has an affiliate relationship with Thrive Market and Amazon. This post contains affiliate links.

1. Mystery Meat

You would expect the food that your growing child is served at school to surpass fast food standards, right? Well it turns out the meat supplied to some schools would be turned down at fast food chains. The National Education Association points out “fast-food chains test their meat five to ten times more often than the USDA for bacteria and would reject meat that the USDA deems safe for consumption“. Speaking of rejected meat, a ground beef supplier had a salmonella outbreak and retailers recalled the meat. However, the schools were still shipped the ground beef produced at the facility during the time of the outbreak.

The ingredient lists and nutritional information for food served in school lunches can also be a mystery. The Better Government Association had to submit a request under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain the nutrition for the Chicago Public School’s chicken patty and other menu items. The chicken sandwich turned out to have dozens of ingredients including MSG, azodicarbonamide, and silicon dioxide (sand), among other things. MSG has been shown to cause allergic reactions, upset stomach, muscle tightness and fatigue.

When you buy meat for a packed lunch, you control what you buy and its quality. Choosing organic meats will ensure ensure your child isn’t being fed meat from animals given antibiotics, hormones, or GMO feed. Organic meats will also not contain chemical nitrates or nitrites, which are associated with increased risk for cancer.

2. GMOs (Genetically Modified Organisms)

Schools aren’t just full of the ABCs. Toxic GMOs are everywhere when it comes to school lunches. The carton of low-fat milk is from cows fed GMO feed. The à la carte french fries are fried in GMO oil and the potatoes themselves could be GMO by next year. The “healthy” scoop of corn on the plate is the only food registered as a pesticide by the EPA. Most GM corn is modified to kill pests and does so by bursting the stomachs of bugs who feed on the corn, called Bt corn. Although humans are built differently to insects, this particular type of corn is likely to affect our bodies as well. The Bt toxin has been found in human blood, suggesting that it is disrupting the bacteria in our digestive system and bodies. Bacteria is essential to our well being, and actually outnumbers the number of human cells in our body. The human microbiome project is just now discovering the DNA of our bacteria and to what degree a disruption in the bacteria affects our bodies.

Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Round Up which is used on many GMO crops, has been linked to some scary side effects. In a 2009 article published by Toxicology, evidence suggested herbicides, like glyphosate, act as endocrine disruptors in human cells. Some endocrine disrupters can alter the functions of the hormonal system are linked to numerous types of cancer. Endocrine disrupting substances are not what we want to feed our children, whose bodies and are still developing and whose hormones are vital in said development.

As a parent, you can ensure your children are not eating GMOs by packing a lunch with foods that are Non-GMO project verified or USDA certified organic.

3. Conventional Food Has Pesticide Residue

School lunches are made with conventional food, meaning no certified organic ingredients are used. Even seemingly healthier fruits and vegetables served up are cause for concern. Foods that are not organic are sprayed with persistent pesticides, which, as we pointed above, are endocrine disruptors. One author of the study, professor Philippe Grandjean of Harvard University, calls for pregnant women and children to eat organic fruits and vegetables among other recommendations. This is due to the risks associated with phthalates found in pesticides and plastic containers. Exposure in utero can decrease a child’s IQ by as much as 6 points, which can be the difference between college or no college. Phthalates can also lead to adult obesity and is linked to asthma. If a toxin is deemed harmful to pregnant women, it is harmful enough for me to avoid exposing my family to it.

Although Non-GMO project verified foods are free from GMOs, they can still contain persistent pesticides, hormones, and antibiotics. Conventional dairy cows are often treated with hormones to boost milk productions. In addition, any meat that isn’t organic is also likely to be from animals injected with antibiotics. Livestock has been shown to gain more weight when frequently injected with antibiotics, and that produces more meat. It’s been common practice since the 1940s. This is problematic for humans to consume because the animals are treated with antibiotics. It can cause antibiotic resistant bacteria and actually make us less safe. In fact, the CDC reports that 23,000 people die each year from bacterial infections that are resistant to antibiotics.

By opting for certified organic food in your kids’ lunch, rather than going with school lunches, you ensure you are not feeding them GMOs, pesticides, animal products tainted with hormones or antibiotics, or artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives which can lead to allergic reactions and hyperactivity.

4. Feeling Unfulfilled

With the attempts to make school lunches healthier, federal guidelines have forced schools to limit calories, fat, and other nutritional aspects in the meals they serve. First Lady Michelle Obama has been advocating for healthier options in schools, whole grains, and more fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, in some cases, this has simply resulted in small and unsatisfying meals to stay with in caloric restrictions. Teens have taken to social media to showcase their lunches which leave a lot to be desired.

Look at my fantastic lunch guys #ThanksMichelleObama pic.twitter.com/h6srKRNOmt

— mariah k (@gummibear2530) March 3, 2015

I know from experience that a hungry child is not a happy child. Hunger can lead to an inability to focus as well as behavioral outbursts. Researchers studying ghrelin, a hormone produced on an empty stomach, were surprised to find it binds to the cells in the brain related to learning, memory, and spacial analysis. Parents know their kids better than anyone, so they are better suited at providing lunches that will satisfy their child’s appetite. With a reusable lunch container, you can pack a lunch and snacks for your children to give them the energy needed throughout their day. In addition, any uneaten food can easily be carted home in the same container.

5. Wasted Food and Wasted Dollars

The idea that school lunches are unappetizing has been around for as long as I can remember. Stories of slop on a plate and bland food are abundant. When children are served food that doesn’t taste good, they won’t eat it. One study estimates $1.2 billion dollars of food goes to waste at schools in the Unites States each year. That’s a lot of waste, which is costly to the schools and the environment. The federal government reimburses schools for lunches depending on the income level of the student’s family. On average, the school can budget $1 per child, per meal. It’s tough to make a meal for such little cost, and it can be a struggle for schools to stick to such a strict budget. The schools gets more money back in federal reimbursement on lower income or free meals than for meals purchased at full price. If you can afford to pack your child’s lunch, it’s worth having control over what goes into it. You can pack foods you know your child enjoys. When packing a lunch, send the food in an insulated lunch box. Your child can bring home any uneaten food to consume later.

6. Packaging Waste and Phthalates

It’s not just food that’s being wasted, but also packaging. Despite school lunches being prepared in the school cafeteria, many are in individualized containers. Fruit cups, milk cartons, packaged sandwiches, salads, and more all contribute to the waste. This packaging waste fills our landfills at rapid rates. In 2012, the United States accumulated 251 million tons of trash alone. That packaging is causing damage to our earth, but also our bodies. According to the America Chemistry Council, phthalates are the most researched family of chemicals in use today. New research points out why these compounds are garnering up so much interest. Phthalates are linked to asthma, adult obesity, lowered IQ, and serious endocrine effects. It’s such an immense problem, that phthalates are costing $175 billion in healthcare costs in Europe. When you pack a lunch, you control the waste. By sending whole fruits instead of fruit cups or applesauce, there is little to no waste. A bento box will allow for separate food to be packaged all in one container. Beverages can be sent in a thermos. Check out some of our favorite reusable lunch products at the end of this post as well. Going a step further, buying in bulk will eliminate even more packaging. You can also use ecologically sound packaging. Thrive Market sells landfill safe natural waxed paper sandwich bags that will not contaminate ground water. They also offer compostable snack bags that are bleach and allergen free. That brings us to our next item, food allergies.

7. Food Allergies

Food allergies among children are increasing at an alarming rate. According to FoodAllergy.org, they affect 1 in every 13 children. Although many schools have adopted peanut-free policies, allergies are still a real concern. Milk, soy, nuts, eggs, and gluten are common allergens that can be found foods you wouldn’t likely suspect. Children could mistakenly consume something they are allergic to resulting in a severe allergic reaction or even death. You can assure home prepared meals are allergen free because you are monitoring the ingredients and the preparation for contamination.

8. Nutrition

Despite federal regulations for healthier lunch menus, many kids are still not eating healthy at school. Lunch money is, instead, being spent in vending machines on sweets and snacks. Even the “healthy” vending machines contain pop-tarts, which made our list of 10 processed foods to never feed your kids. Lunch counters still serve up sugary chocolate milk and fried foods. Jamie Oliver discovered that even servings of vegetables at schools are questionable. Ketchup is counted as a vegetable serving, despite being loaded up with high fructose corn syrup. This is truly the biggest benefit of a packed lunch as opposed to school lunches: nutrition. You can select a balanced meal with real fruits and vegetables, healthy fats, and protein for your child. Healthy eating habits can be taught early on to raise healthy adult eaters. Remember that leading by example is the most effective way to make a change in how our children eat. You can do this by eating the same healthy meals that you pack for your children for lunch at home. If you’re looking for some easy to pack options that are a healthier choice, there are some excellent choices at the end of this post.

9. Hyperactivity

Artificial colors and flavors are in many of the school lunches and other foods served at U.S. schools. From the pop-tarts to the chicken sandwich there are numerous artificial ingredients. The side effects from consuming these ingredients can include allergic reactions as well as behavioral issues. Children can experience worsened ADD and ADHD symptoms which can directly affect the ability to focus and learn at school. Excess sugar consumed can also lead to behavioral issues as well as a sugar crash later. Although there are restrictions on fat and calories in school lunches, there are no rules on sugar. Opt for food in your child’s lunch without artificial colors and flavors. USDA organic foods cannot contain these ingredients. In addition, avoid excessively sweet beverages or snacks. Fresh fruit is a great alternative to sweets and it’s easy to pack.

10. Brain Drain

In addition to preventing our children from being able to focus, the unhealthy foods served at schools are a contributing factor to childhood obesity. Ironically, obesity and being overweight has been linked to poor academic performance. In a 2009 study by The Journal of School Health, the overweight and obese were found to have lowered IQs, reduced attention span, impaired memory retention and increased clumsiness. The chemical compounds phthalates, found in conventional fruit, vegetables, dairy, meat, and their packaging or plastic cutlery, are also linked to a lower IQ. You can provide a packed lunch for your child that models healthy eating habits. Foods like bananas, yogurt, and cheese can provide the protein and energy necessary to help your child get through the school day. Organic fruits and vegetables are also perfect portable foods to add to the lunch bag.

Send Your Kids To School Packing (A Lunch)

If you aren’t already convinced that those beige trays filled with even more beige food are a bad idea, how about these benefits of a sack lunch?

Creative Cuisine

I’ve already discussed how unappealing food ends up as uneaten food. In contrast, food that looks appetizing and fun to eat is more likely to be eaten. We’ve all seen those cute bento boxes all over Pinterest. Yes, some can be highly elaborate and probably took hours to make. But you can still get creative with your child’s lunch box even if you aren’t a master of food arts. Simply using a decorative toothpick or colorful container can make a lunch look more exciting. Using a cookie cutter is an easy and quick way to liven up sandwiches, cheese, and fruit. Even adding in a dipping sauce can make meal time more of an adventure. Hummus is a great dip for crisp veggies and yogurt makes an excellent fruit dip. Getting creative can also help you introduce a new food in a different way. Kids love to play, and their food is no exception.

If you’re running low on inspiration for creative meals, 100 Days of Real Food has dozens of clever lunch ideas anyone can pull off. You can discover some beautiful bento box ideas from Following in My Shoes, including some stress free versions.

Helping Hands

It may seem like more work to pack a healthy lunch for your child each day, but you don’t have to go it alone. In fact, kids are more likely to eat food they helped to prepare. Children who help cook are also more likely to be healthy eaters as adults. The benefits to cooking with kids doesn’t end there. Having their helping hands in the kitchen raises self esteem, provides family bonding time, teaches a much needed life skill, and can help making concepts like math easier to understand.

Lunch Notes

This may be an underrated benefit of sending your child off to school with a packed lunch, but it deserves it’s place on the list. It can be the little laugh they needed on a tough day. It could be a reassuring note that they’ll do great on their quiz. It can even be a great way to remind them of important information, like soccer practice after school or to bring gym clothes home to wash. Lunch notes are great for any age child, even those that can’t read yet. It’s a little reminder to your kids that you care and are thinking of them, even when you can’t be there.

Alternatives for a Packed Lunch

These reusable lunch boxes and quick, but healthier, snacks are some of our favorite packed lunch options.

Planetbox makes taking your lunch environmentally friendly and cool. Lunch Bots are a wonderful stainless steal lunch option. Get them here.Silicone baking cups for the perfect packed lunch. Buy some here.

Foods are available at ThriveMarket.com for notable savings off store prices.

These organic options offer convenience and are a vast improvement over the highly processed conventional lunch items or school lunch foods.

Mama Chia Blackberry BlissGo Go Squeeze ApplesauceInka Chips Plantain Chips Late July Mini Cheddar Cheese Crackers Envirokids Crispy Rice Bar

For more information about safer food for children, pick up a copy of Green Enough: Eat Better, Live Cleaner, Be Happier (All Without Driving Your Family Crazy!) by Leah Segedie. With product investigations, a step-by-step pantry purge, and lots of love she will guide you through the kitchen, bathrooms, and the rest of the house ensuring your family is safe.

4 Reasons School Lunch Isn’t Healthy

When my daughter started full-day kindergarten last year, my husband and I decided we’d pack her school lunch everyday.

I knew that no matter how healthy the school lunch menu claimed to be, there’s no way she’d eat lentils and salad like she did at home. I also knew it wasn’t likely the lunches were made from scratch but instead came out of some sort of a package.

With the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, many schools have overhauled their menus to include more fruits and vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy so I was surprised to hear from other moms that the school lunch wasn’t much better than it had been years ago.

And when I read the school menu, I was shocked.

The choices included things like:

  • Chicken fingers
  • Deli meats
  • Pizza
  • Tater tots
  • Cheese-filled breadsticks
  • Hot dogs
  • Crispy chicken patties
  • Meatball parmesan subs
  • Macaroni and cheese with a dinner roll.

Sure, they offer vegetables and fruit but the main meal options they offered are not something I wanted her to eat.

Now that President Trump has loosened up the school lunch rules former first lady Michelle Obama spearheaded, school lunches may get even worse.

Not to mention that studies show kids who regularly eat school lunch are 29 percent more likely to be obese than kids who bring lunch from home.

4 Reasons Why School Lunch Isn’t Healthy

1. Sodium

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 90 percent of kids consume too much sodium and 1 in 6 kids has high blood pressure.

Deli meats, chicken fingers, hot dogs and French fries are all loaded with sodium and shouldn’t be a school lunch staple.

2. Refined carbohydrates

White bread, pasta, rice and processed foods are made with refined carbohydrates that are low in fiber or missing it altogether, lack nutrients and spike your kids’ blood sugar. Eating refines carbs is also linked to an increased risk for obesity, type-2 diabetes and heart disease.

3. Unhealthy fats

Despite what experts have preached for years about the dangers of eating fat, research shows kids actually need fat, but they need “good” fats, not saturated fats that raise cholesterol and are found in many school lunches. If your kid continues to eat saturated fats at school and at home, over time he’ll have a higher risk for obesity, heart disease and stroke.

Kids need healthy fats like those found in salmon, avocado, and nuts. The likelihood you’ll find these on the menu? Fat chance.

4. Sneaky sugar

Schools might not be serving up cookies and cake, but sugar is sneaky. For example, one choice on my daughter’s school lunch menu is “whole grain blueberry glazed pancakes.”

One can assume the word glazed means the blueberries aren’t fresh but in some sort of sugary syrup. Other sneaky sources of sugar include yogurt, juice and baked beans.

I won’t lie: last year my daughter was allowed to order pizza a handful of times whether it was because I needed to go grocery shopping or we wanted her to experience getting school lunch. The reason she had pizza was because I was concerned about her food allergies. My hope was that she would come home and say she hated it but that wasn’t the case.

This year, we’ll continue to pack lunch from home and she’ll be allowed to buy lunch—but only occasionally.

For many children, school lunches are one of their only opportunities to receive a balanced meal each day. Since schools are typically to serve lunches that adhere to the appropriate guidelines of child nutrition, these meals provide a healthy alternative for many students. Many see school lunches as a necessary part of a child’s school day, others point out the faults involved. Read on to learn more about the pros and cons.

List of Pros of School Lunches

1. Child Nutrition
In a nation where child obesity is consistently on the rise, providing options and alternatives allows kids to eat healthier and remain in shape. Parents do not always have the time to pack lunches for their children and allowing the school to provide healthy meals gives children the chance to meet the correct standards of nutrition.

2. Trying New Foods
Children who have their lunches packed for them by their parents do not always get the experience a wide spectrum of dining options. They will often consume the same style of lunch every day, with very few changes. School lunches give children the chance to sample several different cuisines.

3. Parents Save Time
Nowadays, the stay at home mother who packs her children’s lunches with tender, loving care has become a relic. Since both parents typically work full time jobs, relying on school lunches are a great way to decreases their overall stress level. Parents are able to head to work each day, knowing that their children will be well nourished.

List of Cons of School Lunches

1. Picky Children Don’t Eat
While children who enjoy trying new foods are more apt to love their school lunches, children who are more picky and do not wish to eat the food that the school has provided will often go hungry. In many instances, they may simply choose an unhealthy alternative, as opposed to eating what’s provided.

2. Lack of Parental Control
Parents who wish to exercise a great deal of control over what their children consume are not able to under the school lunch system. They are asked to trust in the school’s administration and as a result, their child’s diet may not be as balanced as they would hope. These parents often opt for the brown bag lifestyle.

3. Menus Are Already Fixed
School lunches do not provide a great deal of wiggle room for the child who does not like to eat the same foods at the same time on the same days. By the middle of each school year, a certain form of school lunch fatigue begins to set in, as pickier children become sick of food schedules that are planned out weeks in advance. Reliance on school lunches means less dining flexibility.

NEW YORK — Nearly a million children could lose their automatic eligibility for free school lunches under a Trump administration proposal that would reduce the number of people who get food stamps.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has released an analysis that says as many as 982,000 children could be affected by the change. About half would have to pay a reduced price of 40 cents for school lunch and 30 cents for breakfast. Around 40,000 would need to pay the full price, which varies depending on the district.

The rest — 445,000 — would remain eligible for free meals, but their families would have to apply to qualify.

Children automatically qualify for free lunches if their families receive food stamps, but the Trump administration has proposed tightening eligibility for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, which was once known as food stamps. The USDA is not proposing changes to the income rules for the program. It says it is addressing a loophole that gives eligibility to people who would not have otherwise qualified.

The agency said the vast majority of affected children would still be eligible for either free or reduced-price meals.

But Lisa Davis of the advocacy group No Kid Hungry said the application to qualify could be a barrier.

“We hear from schools all the time about the challenge they have with getting families to understand the paperwork or to get it back,” Davis said.

The National School Lunch Program serves roughly 30 million students, including about 20 million free meals daily. For those who don’t qualify for free or reduced price meals, the average price of lunch was $2.48 for elementary school students in the 2016-17 school year, according to the School Nutrition Association, which represents cafeteria employees and vendors.

The group says about three-quarters of school districts have students with unpaid meal charges.

The prevalence of school lunch debt shows even small amounts of money can add up over time and become a burden to struggling families, said Giridhar Mallya, senior policy officer at the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Earlier this year, a Rhode Island district at the center of a controversy around “lunch shaming ” — singling out students who owe lunch money — said $12,000 of its $77,000 in unpaid meal charges were owed by children who qualified for free lunches. The district said the charges were incurred before the families’ applications were approved.

In details released late Monday, the USDA said its proposal could cut $90 million a year from the cost of its school lunch and breakfast programs, which last year was more than $18 billion. It noted the actual number of children who could lose automatic access to free lunch could be less, since some schools offer free lunches to all students regardless of their eligibility.

But those schools do so under a program that requires 40% of students to be eligible for free meals, and the rule change could mean some schools no longer meet that threshold, Mallya said.

The USDA released the details of its analysis after it was criticized for failing to report the impact its SNAP rule change could have on children’s access to free school meals. The agency has said the change is intended to make eligibility rules more consistent across the country, since states can grant people eligibility if they were enrolled in other assistance programs.

The USDA said it would reopen the public comment period on the rule for two weeks to allow feedback on the estimated impact to school meals.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

The uniquely unpalatable pizza served to America’s students is hard to find outside of a school cafeteria, but it has long played a preeminent role in political fights over the national nutritional standards for school lunches. After all, serving lunch to our nation’s poorest children is a $13bn industry, and we wouldn’t want the makers of crap foods to miss out on their piece of that pie.

So after House Republicans voted to withhold funds for the Obama administration’s nutritional standards and in favor of serving more frozen pizza, I found and ordered a cheese pie from Schwan’s – one of the largest providers of frozen pizza to the nation’s schools – just to see if my recollections of it were accurate. The directions told me to bake it directly on the oven rack, but I opted for a pan – both because I wanted to recreate the school lunch experience and because the pizza fell apart when I pulled it out of its plastic wrapping.

Fourteen minutes later, I was testing my memory. Here was the familiar crust, which tasted alternately like cardboard and slightly soggy, stale Saltines. Here was the familiar red layer of goo, which took the place of sauce, and the shreds of cheese, which never quite melted. It was all mixed with a little too much salt and the tiniest hint of oregano. It wasn’t good, it wasn’t filling, and it definitely wasn’t nutritious.

I doubt that students are clamoring for more of this pizza. It isn’t the grossest school lunch – that award goes to Salisbury steak – but if students rank Pizza Day as their favorite, it’s only because the competition is so deplorable.

Republicans have been fighting school nutritional standards since 2010, when legislation passed to require that school cafeterias serve more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, and also limits the junk food schools can sell. In 2011, House Republicans supported rules that allow the small amount of tomato paste contained on a slice of pizza – the salty “red goo” that came with mine – to count as a vegetable.

These continuing fights over pizza are frustrating for anti-hunger advocates who want to expand healthy school meals – serving more breakfasts and summer lunches, and making it easier for kids who qualify to get those meals for free – and don’t want their time sucked up defending against rear-guard attacks. But their ranks were recently thinned, as one prominent pro-school-lunch group took up the frozen pizza crusade.

Back in 2010, the School Nutrition Association (SNA), a lobbying group, supported the new standards (which are part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s campaign against childhood obesity). But they’ve since allied with House Republicans – and in favor of frozen pizza. So what happened?

The SNA represents about 10% of the nation’s cafeteria workers and some corporations that sell food to schools. Some of the SNA’s school-district members are struggling to meet the new standards: they complain that students are wasting the healthier food by throwing it away, and that schools have lost revenue because more kids are packing a bag rather than buying lunch. (The United States Department of Agriculture challenges those assertions, and says that 90% of school districts are already meeting the new standards.)

In response, the SNA hired a new Republican lobbying firm and firmly backed the House GOP’s efforts this year to postpone the new regulations. But many observers also believe some of SNA’s recent board changes, and its new president, played an outsized role in its new combative stance: the changes gave some of the SNA’s corporate members, who are donating more money than ever before, more power. Those members face revenue losses under the new school lunch program because their foods don’t – and can’t – meet the administration’s basic nutrition standards. The frozen-food company Schwan’s – which makes the school-grade pizza I had the misfortune to eat – is one of those newly influential members.

And last week, their point of view about the importance of school lunch pizza was on display when Obama administration officials convened a private meeting between the opposing sides in this fight. USDA officials opened by restating their commitment to the new standards, and the bill supported by Schwan’s and the SNA will never pass the Senate. Representatives from the SNA, however, reiterated their concerns, and indicated they were not backing down.

There’s more at stake, of course, than whether kids think Schwan’s pizzas – or any of these lunches – are great. The school lunch program is the best tool we have for feeding the nation’s 16m children living in poverty. And the pizza fight is just one front in a conservative attack on the program – a way to make sure that if their fight to take away food from these kids fails, their corporate donors will still be able to make a buck.

Advocates worry what this fight – and its staying power – poses for the future. “There are very few big levers we can pull in the fight over hunger and obesity”, says Scott Faber, who works on food and farm policy for the nonprofit Environmental Working Group. “School lunch is one of the biggest.” But some people in Washington are more than happy to push that lever the other way – especially if they can make money doing so.

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