Changing the Face of School Lunches – There’s Still a Lot of Work to Do

Currently, legislation is being introduced into the Senate and House to require regulation of all foods sold in the public school environment in the United States. These bills would allow for the setting of standards for cafeteria food and vending machine purchases made by students. But are these measures going far enough? We think not! Here’s why:

We should be outraged and confused as to why the types of foods that are sold in the lunchroom environments are still being offered – and school lunch officials are boasting of “improvements” made on distributed lunchroom literature calendars – that their foods are now all baked instead of fried, and that they do not allow anything greater than 30 percent of daily calories to include fat. Never mind that the foods available in the lunch-line contain toxic chemicals and additives which cause myriad health issues and disable children from having the best chance, both physically and mentally, of performing and learning to the best of their potential, or the fact that most foods the children are eating are nutritionally devoid of nutrients, but have had synthetic ones added back in. And most importantly, remember that the types of fat, cholesterol, proteins, and calories provided in school lunches do not come from nature – they were never intended for people to consume for food – most of them are engineered by scientists in laboratories to ensure preservation of food, consistency in appearance, and of course, taste.

What’s in school lunches?

Just as one example, read the ingredients on one offering – popcorn chicken – a popular offering at schools around the country:

Chicken Breast with Rib Meat CONTAINING: Up to 20% of a Solution of Water, Salt and Sodium

Phosphates.

BREADED WITH: Bleached Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn flour, Salt, Spices, Leavening

(Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate),

Nonfat Dry Milk, Dried Whey, Soy Flour, Dried Whole Eggs, Sodium Alginate, Partially Hydrogenated

Soybean Oil, Dextrose, Garlic Powder, Mono and Diglycerides and Dried Yeast.

BATTERED WITH: Water, Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Dried Whey, Dextrose, Spices, Salt, Leavening (Sodium

Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Sodium Alginate, Soy Flour, Oleoresin Paprika, Nonfat Dry

Milk, Dried Whole Eggs. Breading set in vegetable oil.

ALLERGENS: EGG, MILK, SOY, WHEAT.

Oh, where to start!  The issues with this one item alone are seemingly unending. What you have here is something so processed and so unnatural, the human body couldn’t possibly benefit from its consumption. If we talked about the soy and vegetable oil alone, we’d be dealing with trans-fat issues, nutrition depletion issues (from the phytic acid in soy), and consumption of too many Omega 6s (cause of inflammation in the body which leads to degenerative diseases). And that’s just the tip of the iceberg – there’s also the source of the meat, the eggs used, presence of genetically-modified ingredients (corn, soy, wheat), the fact that the milk used is powdered and non-fat…and the list goes on.

What’s the effect?

Health problems experienced in children due to poor diet are beyond serious – obesity, diabetes, immune disorders, cardiovascular disorders, learning deficits (ADD and ADHD) just to name a few. School lunch programs were originally developed over fifty years ago to combat malnutrition, but what this has led up to is an obesity problem of epic proportions. From working on the school lunch initiative here in Boise, Idaho, I know first hand that regulations and rules written to govern the sale of food to children are both limited and antiquated in terms of what is required for children to eat truly healthy food on a daily basis. Until clear and concise legislation is passed, kids will continue to eat highly-processed, chemical-laden, factory-farmed foods.

What’s up in the legislature?

Our local laws, which are intended to regulate legislation for our school districts, clearly don’t do even an adequate job. Representative Lynn Woolsey, (Democrat, California), would require nutritional standard updating and provide authority from the USDA to install different regulations for school food which are supported by federal subsidies. Similar legislation will be brought to the Senate by Tom Harkin (Democrat, Iowa).  There is a good likelihood that this legislation will remove the most glaring foods such as fried, high-sodium, and other processed items. But there is still much more to do about other foods such as the processed milks, cheeses, meats, and baked foods masquerading as “healthier” choices over fried.

This solution has already been implemented in the state of California. In 2007, this state pushed through some of the most stringent regulations ever placed on school food. According to this School Food Policy article, SB12 requires that school snacks sold to children contain no more than 35 percent of fat calories, no more than 10 percent calories from saturated fats, and no more than 35 percent sugar by weight. There is also a calorie limit on all entrees and ala carte items. Wait…why are we still counting calories and fat? Right! Because they are still referring to processed foods in these instances. Until we completely remove all processed foods, calories and fat will continue to remain an issue. No matter how many calories or how much saturated fat are/is restricted, children will not be getting the real nutrition they need until real, whole foods are offered. Reports conclude that even though calories and fat have lowered in the overall school lunch menus, processed foods and unhealthy choices are still to be found in these so-called improvements which hail down from the all-mighty legislature.

This solution has actually been offered and delivered in places like Berkeley Unified School District in California.

What’s holding the rest of the country back?

Hierarchy, embedded, old laws, and unwillingness to change all play a part in our stuck school lunch system.
We need to stand up and take initiative to fight school lunch issues and deal with the following factors:

  • Learning abilities of children are grossly affected by the foods they eat – ADD and ADHD are also on the rise, performance and test scores are adversely affected. A good meal can sustain a child through mental and physical demands that junk cannot!
  • Lacking proper facilities within the lunch room to prepare home-cooked, from scratch meals.
  • Children are still largely unaware of where their food comes from! There must be education, awareness, and hands-on learning opportunities for young people to become familiar with food, preparation, and growing, and harvesting.
  • School gardens placed on campuses can also go a long way toward both education and feeding children.

Take a stand in your own community! Demand that your district join the ranks of progressive districts like Berkeley Unified and change from processed, fast foods to locally-sourced, organic, real food choices. Get involved locally with local growers, your school district, and the legislature. These options are healthier, and in many cases, don’t end up costing the districts more money. It just takes some leg work to establish new contracts and change legislation. But isn’t it worth it for our children’s (and our) future? You’ll be supporting both the health of children, the local economy, and the earth.

For more information on school lunch news, visit Chef Ann Cooper’s site, The Sustainable Table, and Two Angry Moms.

This posted is linked to in Food Renegade’s Fight Back Fridays Carnival. Please take a moment to go and view the other posts listed there.

2 Responses so far »

  1. 1

    [...] Changing the Face of School Lunches – There’s Still a Lot of Work to Do [...]

  2. 2

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