August 11, 2011

Why Is Feeding Them So Challenging?

Yesterday my husband asked me if we were going to let the kids buy school lunch this year. About three years ago, we started packing lunches because I kept hearing stories that concerned me about the amount and quality of food their were getting. One of my children had the latest lunch and didn't always get the entree she wanted or enough of the sides because they would run out. At that time, my children also had to go to the before-school childcare program, so I bought school breakfast, too, and that usually consisted of a chocolate muffin and chocolate milk. What a great way to start the day! PLUS, I decided I could come up with healthier choices for less money. I'm quite the bargain shopper.

Packing lunches worked well in elementary school, that is, the kids were happy. Students with bag lunches go straight into the cafeteria and may begin eating. Our lunches are not elaborate by any means. Usually it's a sandwich, fruit and/or vegetable, and a treat, such as my homemade jello, a bag of Sun Chips, or a granola bar. However, last year, when my daughter went into middle school, apparently I wrecked her cool quotient by making her pack a lunch. She claimed that she was one of three students in the 6th grade, probably of 300 students, who brought a lunch. (I was surprised because a lot more students at my school pack a lunch--especially those who do not qualify for free or reduced lunch.) I know somebody is thinking of calling child services right now because of the abuse I've caused the child. I relented in getting her a cell phone this year. You can use hers.

It's been enough drama that I considered letting the kids buy school lunch, although I believe in Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution, too, so as I was telling my husband, "No way!" I was also looking up information on school lunch on the district's website.

While I was secretly considering school lunches, he brought up the argument about the news item that was all over the television a few days ago about how unsafe home lunches are because they are not kept at the proper temperature. When I saw that "news," I was more irritated than concerned. It felt like propaganda bull. Why does the government really want me to stop trying to feed my own kids? My husband did raise a good point because halfway through the year, my son admitted to never putting an icepack in his lunch, and he always ate meat sandwiches. (Neither of my kids likes peanut butter. Brats.) He missed zero days of school from food poisoning. In fact, he missed zero days from sickness. Period.

So, as my husband and I were debating whether a warm sandwich ever killed any of us, and I was hoping my kids, who are vacationing at their grandmother's house, have not been watching the news, I found the district's school lunch website and discovered that it would cost my son $1.75 a day for lunch, and for my daughter it would cost $3.00! Three dollars? That seems like a lot, but the sample menus and restaurant comparisons make it seem quite reasonable, don't they? True. It's difficult to eat out for only $3.00. You can ask my husband. He has no choice but to eat out, and he struggles to do it on the cheap. Honestly, though, even for the price, the food choices are not healthier and more filling that we can do at home. When did chicken nuggets and pizza become staples? Maybe I'm putting the turkey/ham/tuna/peanut butter sandwich on a pedestal, but you know, it's fed people in my family for generations. Right, Dad?

Here's me shooting down school lunch again:

Chicken Nugget Meal (example)
5 pc. Chicken Nuggets
I'm not a fan...even before Jamie Oliver's demonstration. At my house the "nugget" part of the chicken is thrown away.
Crispy Tater Tots
Everything comes in plastic. They are not crispy. All six of them.
Baby Carrots w/ Ranch
Eh. Not bad. Most baby carrots, are not the sweet, young ones, but we eat them at our house, too.
The kids prefer dressing, but they usually pack veggies sans dip.
Mini Chocolate Chip Cookies
We sometimes have cookies treats. Homemade is best...
8 oz. 1% Milk
I know for a fact, my kids will always select chocolate milk. It's not just a treat like when I was a kid. It's available all the time.

The chicken nugget meal is listed under the elementary meal, but I would bet that the secondary meal would be essential the same on chicken nugget days.

CCSD Secondary Menu
Low-Fat Cheese Pizza Slice
This is apparently an option every day. (Not the only one, though.) Although, it was a major selling point for my daughter to get school lunch, she did admit that everyone was tired of pizza by Christmas. Too bad it doesn't have meat or veggies on it.
Tossed Green Salad w/ Dressing

At my school, I've seen these few leaves of lettuce "tossed" in the trash each day. It looked more like garnish than a side of salad.
Fresh Whole Orange
Maybe it's my bias, but it's been a long time since I have had a good fresh orange in Nevada. My kids love them, but there are only a few months during the year when we can get any that they will actually eat. I'm betting these are much the same. More often than not, I see apples on the school lunches more than oranges, but they come already cut and packaged. Strange, no? They taste weird.
Whole Fruit Cherry Turnover
Wow! That's a great spin, isn't it? You get a whole turnover or a whole cherry? Just wondering.
8 oz. 1% Milk
Again, mine would choose chocolate every time. It's suppose to have like 30 grams of sugar. For that much sugar, I could probably pack something more filling and satisfying. Or given them a soda. They would love that treat.

I have to admit that just the description and the spin on price seems reasonable enough. Well, for my elementary-aged student it does. Three dollars is too much for food that comes frozen and is simply reheated. (Check out Mrs. Q's pictures. Our lunches look much like those.)

It's more than that, though. It's quality of food. Am I the only one who sees that?

What further surprised and irritated me is when I decided to do a search on bag lunch vs. school lunch, I initially found so much more support for school lunch--from both parents and school/government agencies. Last year, my students did a project where they hypothetically designed a school for a village in a third world country that did not already have in a school. I was surprised by the number of students who felt it was necessary to include a cafeteria. That's when a question popped into my head, "When did it become expected that schools much also feed the children?" I know we are not the only country that has school lunch, and I am not knowledgeable enough to know how many countries subsidize lunches for their students, but I really would like to know when parents gave up that responsibility?

I hate to do the back in the day thing, but seriously, when I was a kid, sure I remember eating school lunch, and it was probably a better deal for my mother (I had to start packing in secondary school, so perhaps it wasn't always a better deal), but I also remember getting a tray full of food that was prepared on site. I won't claim it was all healthy. We had butter. Stuff was sometimes fried, but usually it was baked. Lots of casseroles. We had canned food, but in those days, we didn't have "fresh" produce (out of season) all year long. Honestly, it often resembled what I ate for dinner at home, except my mother never made homemade dinner rolls.

If I had been a mother back then, I would have thought it was a blessing to feed my kids all that food for the money. As a mother now, and I am blessed to be able to afford to feed my kids well (I know so many families struggle), however, I think I can do better than the school district. Why is there so much guilt for that?

Yes, I will try to offer a balanced meal. Thanks for mentioning it, Government Guidelines.

Yes, I could offer something junky from time to time, Dear Daughter, but I cannot afford that junk food and neither can your health.

Yes, I will continue to threaten my son with peanut butter if he doesn't pack his meat sandwiches with an ice pack (and a frozen bottle of water for extra assurance), Media Hype. He'll live.

Thanks for letting me try to feed my own family.


Your Bro said...

I hear you on this! Over the past couple years we've had to keep an eye on your eldest niece because we've found she's not including the right amount of food in her lunches. I think the "cool" factor played into this quite a lot and we tried to make it so that she had interesting foods and the school lunch eating kids around her began to take some interest in what she was bringing day to day. She began seeing it as well. She was kind of the cool kid because her lunch became the table discussion. I remember our school lunches from grade school very well--it was good! Some things I miss that don't seem as good if made at home:Baked "grilled" cheese sandwiches, Cowboy Delight ("Hot dish" in our German household) Flying Saucers (balogna with a scoop of real mashed potatos and cheese) and peanut butter squares. If you wanted a treat after your lunch, there was the peanut machine--a dime would get you a handfull of spanish peanuts and I remember sometimes waiting in a short line for them.

Clix said...

I think school lunches started in the years up to and during WWII because of widespread malnutrition. But that's very vaguely-remembered.

Our school lunches are pretty awesome, but then, I'm really good at giving hopeful-puppy eyes to the lunch ladies so they'll sneak me a few extra tater tots. (I LOVE tater tots.) Ours are baked openly, so they're NICE and crispy and all warm and mealy on the inside... mmm!

I love, love, love that our salads include spinach and romaine as well as iceberg lettuce; I try to hit the line at a slow time so that I can pick through with the tongs to get as much of the darker greens as I can! >;)

And we have skim milk available. Yum!

Truth is, there's no way to MAKE children eat well when you're not there with them. Even if you send a bag lunch, they may very well toss it in the trash and use their allowance to buy powdered donuts and a soda.

HappyChyck said...

Bro--I'd forgotten about the peanut machines! I was thinking exactly about Cowboy Delight. Flying saucers...well that was kind of a stretch for edible food, but it was certainly creative.

Clix--I'm jealous of your school's lunches! And you are right about not being able to control what the kids eat. It is what it is.

Mrs. Bluebird said...

In nine years at The School, I have never bought school lunch - it's healthier and quicker for me to pack (I make it at night when I make supper, which is super easy if I'm doing a salad.) I do have a refrigerator in my room, and we have a microwave to heat up things as well. I've seen what the kids eat for breakfast and lunch and it's way heavy on the carbs and doesn't seem like a lot for the money. I remember my school lunches as a kid and they were prepared on site, were very much like a good dinner, and were wonderful. We have over 60% on free and reduced lunch and and most of them eat breakfast as well. I'm not sure when the schools because the feeding station of the country's kids (and not the parents), but I remember reading that an idea was floated to feed kids in the Washington DC area, supper before they went home - all 3 meals would be eaten at school. Amazing. Pretty much leaves the parents out of the equation.

Polski3 said...

Here in Southern California, in our town, we are now spending $5.00per day for the school lunch for our two H.S. boys. There is a lot of variety, compared to what there used to be, but much of it is not of the best nutritionally. As member of School Site Council, I've asked about this and was told too much "healthier" food just goes to waste.