What’s For Lunch?

Over the last few years the school lunch program has become a very controversial issue.  Michelle Obama began to bring awareness to the obesity crisis among kids in our country an easy target has become school lunch. It has been a free-for-all among school districts of how to address this very serious problem.

Now don’t misunderstand me, there needs to be a huge overhaul in the entire school lunch program, however, it’s complicated, the government is involved and in order for it to be successful, change can’t  happen overnight.

I have always been interested in the school lunch program and each of my kids have used it differently.  My kids have always enjoyed buying lunch at elementary school. My oldest is a good eater ( eats a variety of foods) and was happy to eat whatever was served on the menu or bring a packed lunch. My other two kids, I wasn’t so lucky…my youngest especially is a very picky eater.  So eating in the school cafeteria introduced him to some foods that he never would have tried on his own.

Last year a group of parents started a committee in our school district to improve the school lunch program.  I was very interested and went to the first meeting where our food service director explained how the program works.  As I watched parents ask questions, I quickly realized that everyone has their own agenda when it comes to food and their own idea of what’s healthy.

I was already familiar with the fact that schools are required to meet government nutritional guidelines, purchase foods from approved vendors, and also need to use government food commodities. Basically, this greatly limits what products are available to them.  At the same time, the school lunch program  provides lunch to many students, often times at no cost with reimbursement from the government…it’s complicated!!!!

So, I  listened, as some parents were asking to take away the a la carte snacks (ie; cookies, ice cream, baked chips) to avoid temptation at school, eliminate chocolate milk, and remove all products with high fructose corn syrup.  I realized at that moment, that parents need to be educated to see the bigger picture.  The goal in schools should be to offer healthy foods that kids will eat. It’s our job as parents to teach our kids to make good choices and for us to realize that these decisions will always be there.

Shortly after that first meeting, a Nutrition Advisory Committee was created in our school district to work towards making the food in our schools healthier.   The committee consists of parents…a  few are dietitians, administrators, teaching staff and food service staff.  We have existed for a year and it has been quite a struggle  to agree on realistic changes based on what products are available.  I am also a member of our districts Wellness Committee and work with a similar group of people where we are trying to increase the awareness of being healthy and exercising by developing various programs and guidelines district wide and within each school.

I am all for adding healthier foods, but when we restrict  foods it sends a really negative message to kids. Of course, we want to serve our kids the healthiest food possible. The key is for kids to understand and to want to feed their bodies healthy food. It doesn’t do the kids any good if the new improved healthier meal goes straight to the trash!

Teaching kids moderation is a skill that they will use for the rest of their lives.

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