What’s For Lunch?

Which would you rather serve to your child? A snack-size package of Cool Ranch Doritos or a small home-made brownie?  A cellophane-wrapped factory made cookie or a home-made cupcake with sprinkles?

According to the Panel for Educational Policy (aka PEP, a misnomer if ever there were one), the Doritos and factory-made cookies are “approved” foods, but the bake-sale staples of brownies and cupcakes are so unhealthy that they need to be regulated right out of NYC public school cafeterias. A new regulation currently under discussion would go further than the simple “bake sale ban” that Mayor Mike enacted earlier this fall: under this new rule, if it is approved, students can sell “approved” items any time of day outside the school cafeteria, and PTAs can hold monthly fundraisers of “non-approved” food items but not during lunch and never in the cafeteria.

What constitutes “approved” food items, you ask?  Cool Ranch Doritos—all flavors of Doritos, in fact; Pop Tarts, Kettlecorn, Linden’s Fudge Chip Cookies, and a variety of flavored waters.  Any of these can be sold at any time, just not in the cafeteria. Look at this list and ask yourself how you would define “healthy diet.”

Because according to these proposed rules, a kid could theoretically panhandle bags of Doritos in the hallway en route to gym class, but the PTA can’t sell brownies in the cafeteria during lunch.

This is supposed to be the path to healthier dietary habits among children?  Processed food in plastic packages is better for you than home-made treats? I mean, I don’t want my kids munching away on brownies and cookies and cupcakes on a regular basis, but I’d rather they have a cupcake a month at lunch than a steady diet of Doritos or Smart Food Popcorn Clusters.

If PEP and DOE and CEC and USDA and all the other acronyms that control what happens in our schools are serious about modifying and improving the diets of school-age children, then what about banning high fructose corn syrup in school lunches, including milk. Did you know that the second ingredient in the chocolate milk sold in schools is HFCS? At that rate, why not just sell little bitty cans of Coke or Pepsi or Mountain Dew with lunch?

Or what about insisting that the beef, chicken, and other proteins sold to the government for school lunch programs come from the best sources available rather than from remnants and leftovers? 

Or what about paying attention to Jamie Oliver’s TED speech and finding ways for kids to understand that fruits and vegetables actually exist in nature, not just in cans or slopped on the corner of a styrofoam tray.

In any case, if you live in New York, you tell the PEP what you think about their new resolution by clicking here (their email is panels@schools.nyc.gov).  Maybe you should send them some cupcakes, too.

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3 Responses to What’s For Lunch?

  1. Cathy Epervary February 17, 2010 at 7:15 pm #

    I always have to preface everything with, this is just my opinion, because I don’t want to offend anyone and everyone is entitled to an opinion, but I work in food service and it’s a complicated business. I understand your frustration about the homemade brownies and cupcakes, but I have also been in the homes of the people supplying them and I dare to say that their kitchens are less clean then a city garbage can and that’s why the ban on homemade foods originated. The schools can’t control the cleanliness of peoples homes.

    Pre-wrapped goods on the other hand, pretzels, dorito’s and the like are held to a higher standard due to all of your acronyms and that’s why they are accepted. Our PTA due to children’s food allergies and such are only allowed to bring in pretzels and water bottles (ie bread and water served in prison’s) as the allowed snack. I know it’s crazy.

    About the school lunch programs – this is another touchy subject with me only because I work in a middle school cafeteria and I have to deal with the parents all the time. Out of 876 students, we feed 628 for lunch almost every day. When we get parents complaints about what we are serving I have to say that my first response is, then why isn’t this kid packing a lunch if our food is so bad? We have a hot lunch and sandwich, a “Subway” station, pizza station, salad bar filled with yogart and fresh fruit and vegetables every day. The prep time in the morning is unbelievable. We are now serving a breakfast program because we have a high percentage of kids on free/reduced lunch and there is a need for kids to just be fed because the economy is so bad. I have two kids that I make special meals for every day because they have a gluten allergy and several kids that are lactose intolerant that we bring in additional special diet requests for. We have special tables for children with peanut allergies that we have to clean in between lunches as well. We are not an inner city but we are self sufficient (as are most federally subsidized lunch programs) and we have to make enough through the lunch program to cover our costs. I understand that the finances in a city school system are tight, but every school lunch program has the ability to serve healthy alternatives if they chose too. Most of them are just too lazy to go the extra mile.

    The push from parents to supply a healthier lunch program provided by the school is sometimes unrealistic and again I ask where is the parents responsibility to pack a healthy lunch for the children themselves and to teach them early on about healthy choices. We always joke and say that the next thing we’ll be doing is cooking their dinner too.

    Ohio is in the process of trying to submit and put into effect an unfunded state mandate that would require that we supply the kids (with an already rigorous academic curriculum) with 1/2 hour of physical activity every day because the lunch program is being blamed for childhood obesity. This would require more PE teachers and a number of additional costs to the tax payers. How about parents taking their kids out for a walk every day for half hour? Instead people are saying that it’s the responsibility of the school to provide the exercise. What’s next?

    I have three children that utilize the school lunch program and I do send in baked goods for their various activities. One of my children is a vegetarian and she finds things to eat. I know the rules seem crazy sometimes, but some people still don’t wash their hands after using the bathroom and then deciding to bake brownies for their child’s birthday party in school. I know that sounds hard to believe but the school’s are the one that wind up liable. I am by no means a germaphobe and we do not overuse hand sanitizer’s but I do see the other side of the coin. Thanks again for always sparking some food for thought, no pun intended.

  2. deborahlquinn February 17, 2010 at 7:28 pm #

    @Cathy: this is a great, thoughtful reply, thanks! It’s true that homes aren’t as clean (nor are home cooks) but I guess I wished that there were some way to reduce the amount of packaged, highly processed foods from the lunchroom. It’s the Dorito thing that really bums me out! You also touch on a really, really important issue, which is the sedentary life of kids at school! I think that the obsession with test scores and “data” and quantifiable measurements has obscured the idea that kids (everyone) needs to move a LOT more during the day than we do. In my kid’s K classroom, next to hte picture of the food pyramid are lots of rectangles with “healthy habits” written on them, including one that says move around for 30-60 minutes a day. C. is in school from 8:20-3:10. On non PE day (which only happens once a week), he gets 20 minutes of movement during lunch, unless it’s cold/raining/the school-yard is under construction. In that 20 minutes is line-up, go out, line back up, go to class. I totally agree with you that parents should take more responsibility—and move their kids around—but at the same time, isn’t it sound educational practice to do the whole “healthy mind healthy body” thing? You might be interested in this blog:

  3. Cathy Epervary February 18, 2010 at 9:05 pm #

    Thanks for the blog link – I did find it interesting. I particularly liked what Dora Rivas said under the comments. She addressed many of the issues I deal with every day.

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