Lunchroom Drop InPosted December 6th, 2012 by Chinara Tate
Let me preface by stating that I’m somewhat of a food snob and food purist. I haven’t consumed anything from a fast food chain in about 5 years and the very sight of highly processed packaged foods make me cringe. As a mother, doctoral candidate in nutrition and the daughter of pescatarian parents, it’s not difficult to surmise how my proclivities toward unadulterated, organic, nutrient dense, hormone free food came about. Nor should it come as a surprise that I’ve been sending my four year old son to daycare and then pre-school with a packed home prepared meal for the past 3+ years. I actually put express effort into making gourmet meals for him in hopes that his palate will be so refined that he would never dream of swapping some of my home prepared foods for school lunch items or a bag of Doritos.
I’ll admit it, it’s a bit neurotic. But as the single mother of a Black son in America where I must relinquish control over so much of what my son will be exposed to in a few years, a bit of neuroticism is probably warranted. Thus, one might find it quite shocking that, after a recent visit to a public middle school in Brooklyn, I have come to the conclusion that it might not be so terrible if my son eats school lunch every once in a while.
While conducting systemic observation for my dissertation research at the school I anticipated finding that not much had really changed as a result of the new federal guidelines. In fact, my research is somewhat founded upon the premise that schools still have a long way to go in making adequate progress around school food and competitive food availability. Now while numerous changes are still warranted, the meal served on the particular day I conducted my observation was no where near the chicken nugget and french fry nightmare I anticipated.
After selecting low fat or skim milk, every child was given the option of taking steamed broccoli, roasted chicken and a white and wild rice mix or an assortment of meatless sandwiches on whole wheat bread. To boot, in this particular school there was a salad bar where children could take additional vegetable options. With respect to competitive foods, the only option made available to students was water in the three vending machines allotted space on the school premises. Now the milk wasn’t almond or organic, the food was conventionally sourced, the broccoli appeared overcooked and leached of many vital nutrients but I was quite astonished to admit to myself that, overall, the meal looked like a variation of something I would prepare for my son.
I have several other public schools to visit for my research over the coming weeks, but if this school is any indication of what’s going on citywide, there has been marked and exceptional improvement in school lunch over the past decade. Provided well established correlations between food intake and obesity, metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, fatty liver disease, dental caries and possibly even cognitive dysfunction looming over every child who is excessively exposed to industrial mass produced and processed foods, the policy changes in school food should be much applauded and embraced.