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I got the new menu for my oldest daughters lunch and noticed something strangely new: there were carrot sticks, cucumbers, romaine lettuce and even...oh my goodness...hummus, on the menu! I am a mom who likes to cook but doesn't love to cook and like many have little time in the morning to prepare a school lunch for my daughter. So I end up letting her eat lunch at school two to three times per week.

I had my issues with school lunch in the beginning of my child's education as well as the cafeteria workers' concerns that the kids won't eat certain foods unless it is served in a certain way. But it seems things are beginning to change with the new school menu. My daughter has started to create her own preferences based off some of the healthy ways we eat at home. Her former school lunch favorite, pizza, has been shunned because it is too greasy. But at least it's served with a raw veggie side dish option.

Franky, this is a great first step. I have always been in favor of the idea that if you put healthy food in front of children, they will become acclimated to it. Eventually. I spoke to one of my friends about lunch at her son's school and she said that since their school has changed their menu he is now asking for salads to be made at home. But here's where a fellow mocha mom, Patrice Young (Silver Spring chapter put yo hands up!) said schools can do to continue to improve.

"The problem is that the food is so uninspiring. Good food that's good for you can also be interesting. My daughters, age 7 and 9, are not big fans of the school lunches, and probably buy about once a month."

She then went on to list this inspiring array of foods from Thai noodles to lasagna to grilled turkey chops to a sub sandwich. Yum! But who cooks like this in real life? Well, I do, but there's a but. I make dinner most days, but due to a large eating husband, I rarely have leftovers for lunch the next day. Like many parents, I also work hella hard and have to choose where I'm going to put my time and effort. School lunch doesn't always make the cut. So like many in my position, I depend on the school cafeteria to feed my child.

School should be a place where as a society we put our best healthy foot forward. With obesity at an all-time high in children, our schools should set a reasonable example of how children should eat to optimize health now and in the future. Remember, we are setting up habits and health conditions that can and will last a lifetime. So it is important that children associate healthy food with food that tastes good.

Rodney Tyler, Director of Nutrition Services in Riverside California decided to incorporate what is starting to be done here in Montgomery County, MD and purchase produce from local farmers. But in order to get kids to be more involved in eating healthy he had a chef, Ryan Douglas, get the student's attention this way.

One of the first things he incorporated to entice his students to come and eat in the cafeteria was start daily bar-b-que. He had big grills built and to this day fires up the grills about 30 minutes before the students are released for lunch. This gets the students excited about coming out to eat. It tempts them for a good 30 minutes with the aroma of bar-b-que by smelling up the campus and makes them feel like there is a celebration going on in the cafeteria.

Who wouldn't want that for lunch? After he got the students' enthusiasm, he introduced vegetable dishes and whole fruits that were not in plastic containers. He was also able to do this within the budget he was handed.

Other school districts are having difficulty getting kids to buy into the new lunch meals. Students are saying they are hungry and it's not enough food. Let me just stop here. If a child or an adult for that matter moves from eating burgers, fries, pizza, chips and cookies to eating apples and cold cut sandwiches, a small portion of baked chicken and/or steamed vegetables...yeah, they are going to feel hungry for a minute. We also have to think about just how much food kids and adults consume in and outside of school.

You don't get fat or hypertensive from eating one hamburger and a cup of french fries. You get fat from eating MULTIPLE burgers, fries, desserts and sodas in one sitting...and over and over again. The body gets used to that, and whether you are overweight or not, it wants that type of food, like any other drug that one becomes addicted to. If kids weren't complaining, I'd be suspicious. Anybody watch an episode of the Biggest Loser?! What's the first thing the contestants complain about? "I'm not full...this food tastes like nothing...I can't take it!!"

Then there's this gem in the Washington Post:

At Mukwonago High School outside of Milwaukee, the lunch program has declined by 70 percent. Their school principal Shawn McNulty says "There is a reduction in nacho chips, there is a reduction in garlic bread, but there's actually an increase in fruits and vegetables. That's a tough sell for kids, and I would be grumbling, too, if I was 17 years old." Senior at Automotive High School in Brooklyn, Malik Barrows, says the new lunch menu has "no taste, no flavor and it's healthy."

FYI everybody, if you're used to a lot of salt on your food, less salt tastes bland for a while. If you're used to a lot of sugar in your drinks, less sugar feels like less taste. If you're used to a lot of fat...well...you get the picture.

We need to be creative so that healthy does not mean bland or tasteless to our children, and recognize that a shift in what is palatable takes time. Healthy means balanced, flavorful, diverse (more than just italian-american staples of pizza and pasta and cheese sticks), not just vegetarian, and satisfying. It's the feeling that one doesn't have to leave the table hungry simply because you haven't had chips/fries, soda and a huge chunk of greasy meat with bacon and cheese on a bun. We have to entice kids but not pander to them. I think that's slowly becoming the outcome of the new school lunch standards.

In order for these nutritional reforms to stick it is important that we vote. School boards, county executives, and Mayoral candidates can be far more important in these matters than congressional representatives and even the president. Though the national candidates(and First Ladies for that matter) can make overarching legislation, it is the local representative that carries it out and makes it relevant to their own locality. Our school lunch program directly affects how our kids learn and their overall well-being as humans, and those who don't realize it have their heads in the sand.

Case in point, around this time last year certain members of congress fought to allow essentially a tablespoon of tomato paste on pizzas to be considered one vegetable serving. As the salt lobby...and yes, there is a salt lobby, and potato growers and frozen food producers put pressure on certain representatives, some conservatives started saying that the government shouldn't tell kids what to eat. They and the food lobbyists called pizza and pasta meals healthy.

Sigh....Congressional members also argued that in this time of economic turmoil, we can't afford to change our children's diets. Uh huh. Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa and Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas introduced the "No Kids Hungry Act" this month to "...repeal the new lunch menu standards and prohibit calorie limits" equating the lunch requirements to "subsistence diets". Really?!

Let me be blunt: these are the stupidest arguments I have ever heard. If this situation wasn't so dire, these statements would be laughable. Prevention of disease means our tax dollars don't pay for diseases associated with obesity when our children get older. If we want to save money, isn't it better to pay a few more dollars per child now than to pay thousands of dollars later? Since this particular election is about jobs lets put it this way.

One in three U.S. adults is obese, and researchers say the impact on business can be boiled down to a number: $1,000 to $6,000 in added cost per year for each obese employee, the figure rising along with a worker's body mass index.

Studies estimate the total cost of obesity to U.S. employers — including lost productivity — at $73 billion a year.

Our military is concerned about recruitment and future troop strength. We've been in two wars. This is something that those representatives are concerned about...

But it is not just a few overweight kids that are causing calorie cuts across the cafeteria. One out of every four adolescents are too overweight to join the military, according to a report released Tuesday by Mission: Readiness, a group of retired military leaders who claim obesity is now a national security issue.

Removing the junk food from our schools should be part of comprehensive action that involves parents, schools and communities in helping children make healthy food choices," retired U.S. Coast Guard Admiral James Loy said in a statement. "The bottom line is that the armed services must have a sufficient pool of fit young adults to draw from in order to field enough recruits with the excellent qualifications needed to staff a 21st century military.

I find it frustrating and illogical that there are people who are opposing this type of nutritional intervention in our schools. The hypocrisy of calling a healthier menu in our lunchroom another manifestation of the nanny state while at the same time wanting those with food stamps to only purchase healthy food and not go to McDonald's because it's funded through tax dollars is mind-boggling. Many of those people who have problems with the new standards come from the states with the worst cases of obesity and it's health-related consequences.

As a singer, I would find it difficult to take advice about healthy singing from a smoker. When my mother-in-law who is obese, has arthritic knees and ankles, has suffered a heart attack and takes a wide variety of medications daily said to me one day that having my daughter eat ice cream regularly was good for her because it had calcium in it...breathe...I nodded lovingly and politely and moved the conversation in another direction. I'm not even going there.

The science is clear. Those who eat healthily, no matter what their weight, are healthier. They still get disease, but they handle it better and generally have better outcomes. I've witnessed this personally. Just more exercise in and of itself is not going to keep our kids' weight down, especially since gym is generally once a week and recess is about 15 minutes long. We know that eating whole foods like green vegetables, whole fruits, and lean meats leads to better health outcomes for children's futures.

These facts are not in dispute. They are not debatable. There is no left or right outlook. I know what I'm going to do: I'm going to vote. I'm going to do the best I can to make sure that my children and all the children around them have a healthy meal to eat when they go to school. I suggest we all think about what we need to do. Children grow up fast and they can't wait.

Onward and Upward!

This post is part of the National School Lunch Week with Healthy Food! A MomsRising Blog Carnival. Take a moment to read and comment on these thoughtful blogs, then tell us your story. Our stories are powerful and are what led administrators to set these rules in place.


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