It's back to school time! Since most of the states have started their new school year, I feel compelled to comment (if you know me, you know I rarely make just ONE comment) about the dilemma of whether to pack lunch or buy from the cafeteria. My oldest child is in college and my youngest is in second grade so I have been facing this dilemma for what seems like forever! My biggest gripe is that if my child buys lunch from the cafeteria I should not have to worry about the choices he makes because the school should be following the guidelines. It should be healthy, no matter the combination chosen.
School lunch programs should follow The U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines (remember when we had to learn in school many moons ago the Food Pyramid?) if the school is federally funded. While the USDA does require that the meals meet certain nutritional standards, schools choose the specific foods. This should be a no-brainer, right? As usual, things are never that easy. While it is more economical for the most part to purchase a school lunch (ours is $2.00 average depending on what grade child is in) vs. packing a lunch, parents really need to study the school menu. http://www.mypyramid.gov/index.html
According to a Rodale.com article, a school breakfast fares pretty well compared to a school lunch. The not so surprising fact is that many schools are not complying with the guidelines. And you better do a double take of the menu if your child attends a private school where more than likely that school is not receiving federal funding for it's food program. Basically, no federal funding means no rules for nutrition.
My school system does an ok job with the lunch menu and they have received the USDA Gold Award in the HealthierUS School Challenge. There is no frying anymore, only baked which is a step in the right direction. Gone also are the white rolls having been replaced with wheat rolls. They still have chocolate milk which tends to have the same amount of sugar as a canned soft drink. Check out my good friend Jamie Oliver's stats (ok, in my mind we are best buds and have a passion for the same things) and read about his Food Revolution. http://www.jamieoliver.com/jfr-beta/toolkit/tool_kit-milk.pdf
Our school menu seems to be on a four week rotation and there is one particular lunch I cringe over, so much so that I am seriously thinking of making an appointment with the Director of Dietary to discuss it. Let's just say that my child chose pizza, mashed potatoes and a roll for his lunch! Don't even get me started that elementary kids can also get extras via ala carte if they have extra money! I found this out when my child was collecting all the loose change around the house to support his ice cream addiction! Parents are none the wiser either and must notify the school that their child not be allowed to purchase ala carte. Another slap in the face is the menu at the high school but that would take another post on its own!
In short, parents need to be proactive in lunch programs and discuss with their child what the better choice is for their meal. Make that appointment with the school cafeteria manager and district dietary director. Visit school and have lunch with your child to see what is being served (added bonus is your child will love having you as a guest). Help our children lead healthy lives with healthy choices.