My oldest daughter is 8 and in 2nd grade. When she first started school, she began in the Montgomery county summer school program which was free for one month. Hallelujah. She was given free breakfast. Another plus. However, when I went to the cafeteria I was a lot less impressed. Now granted, they were doing a better job than I've seen many schools do. As a teaching artist in New York City and Washington, DC, I've seen a lot of school lunches and snacks. It ain't always pretty out there y'all. But I thought in the wealthy, highly progressive county of Montgomery Co, MD that they would have it together. The school showed me what was for breakfast:
- - cereal with milk (chocolate or strawberry…yes I saw kids with chocolate milk in their rice crispies)
- - a "granola" bar in the shape of a circle.
Me: That's a cookie,
Cafeteria worker: No it's a nutrition bar,
Me: No…it's a cookie. It has chips in it and everything. And do you know how much sugar is in a "granola bar"?!
They did have fruit. The plums were as hard as a rock and probably about as sweet as one. And cinnamon buns - really? A pastry for breakfast for a kid? Couldn't it at least be a pancake?
For lunch they also had chicken in the shape of a chicken drummet and fish patties in the shape of a star, with cheese in it, the staple of pizza and/or hot dogs… Well, you get my drift.
These were the healthy choices! There are no vending machines at my daughter school and they pass out carrot sticks for snacks sometimes. Vending machines food products that make up our school lunches are training our children to believe that food product is actually food! Food is not cake. That's dessert, not breakfast. Banana or Zuchini bread is sweet, but because it's not in the shape of a cookie or a cake, no go. The kids won't eat it if we don't package it this way, says the cafeteria worker. Kids want sugary,fatty, salty things as much or more than their parents do. But I hate to sound like my grandmother, but when I was a kid, we had the choice of milk and…milk. We had pizza, but we also had hoagies, and regular sandwiches. But more importantly, we ate real food at home, so even when I pigged out on Snickers bars and soda at the school store, I still ate real food at home.
There needs to be a partnership between parents and schools concerning healthy food choices. Junk food is fine occasionally, but if the child hasn't had real whole food, they will not want it. Children have to learn to make good choices, but we all know that if it's a choice between water and soda, soda wins most of the time. The child's taste buds are primed for these artificial types of flavors because food companies put vast resources researching what children like: bright colors that are salty, fatty and sweet. It's hard wired for children to be junk food addicts.
You don't put a baggy of crack and raisins next to a junky and think they are going to eat the raisins. Companies know that they are creating the palates of the child's lifetime if they get in now. If they get them hooked on their sweet, salty, fatty products, that's what they will crave for their entire lives. We are training our children for habits for a long, healthy life. It's hard to take off weight once it's on. It's hard to restrict your calories once you're used to eating certain foods. Children
should have the experience with all types of foods and know what makes them feel good.
In this time of belt tightening, we need to think about the long term ramifications of school lunch and the profit making vending machines in our schools. This generation is the first that will probably not outlive their parents. Think of that when you give your kids change to buy the juice "drink" in the vending machine at school. Mmmmm…red dye #5…tasty.