Food for Thought (or Thoughts for Food)

I was going through the radio presets in my car yesterday morning on the way to school when I stopped on one morning show host delivering his strange news segment. The final tidbit had to do with school, so I was immediately intrigued.

These are the kinds of news bits that leave you saying things like, “Is this a joke?” or “You can’t be serious.”

And so it was that I found myself saying both after hearing about the four-year old with the lunch that didn’t meet USDA nutritional guidelines, despite the fact that it contained a turkey and cheese sandwich, juice, and a banana. FOR SHAME.

Since a North Carolina Health and Human Services agent was on lunchbox inspection duty that day, the school was required to supplement the child’s home lunch with a school lunch, in order to make sure the federal standards (one serving of meat, one of dairy, and two of fruit or vegetables) were met. The school’s response was to provide the child with chicken nuggets.

Yes, chicken nuggets.

I think it’s important for schools to be made to meet standards for balanced meals, but it’s more important to let logic have it’s rightful place at the cafeteria table of thought and consideration for each circumstance. Would a parent sending a turkey sandwich to school be happy to know her child wound up eating chicken nuggets instead (or possibly worse, in addition)? In what realm of reality do chicken nuggets qualify as healthier than a turkey sandwich?

The whole thing got me thinking about my experiences with school lunch as a teacher.

In my career, I have observed that, while my students get vegetables with their lunch, they rarely eat them. They generally eat the apple or orange they get, but broccoli and mixed vegetables seem to always go untouched and unconsidered as worthy of eating. They always seem to manage, though, to eat cookies and cake, and to drink Sunny Delight, Capri-Sun, and other sugary beverages (all the while telling me it’s “juice.”)

What good are these mandates if students still bring and choose unhealthy foods? I think it’s going to take more than the government’s requirements that schools serve certain foods in order to get kids to eat them. Simply giving kids something and expecting they’ll eat it because it’s there is not going to work. They need to be educated about healthy eating and why it’s important. Otherwise, broccoli will continue to fill the garbage cans, right alongside the emptied bottles of sugary beverage.


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