Most school lunches are nutritionally dismal. Recently I took tours of my town's elementary schools in preparation for sending Ben next year, and I peaked at the kids' trays during lunch at one of the schools. Meatball sub, canned peaches, chocolate chip cookie, milk. It's depressing. Truly it is. I've been reading a lot lately about people who are passionate about doing something about changing school lunch; I plan on getting active locally when my son starts kindergarten. One particularly interesting blog, called "Fed Up With School Lunch," is about a teacher who has committed to eating her school's lunch every day for a year. She figured, if it's good enough for the children, it should be good enough for the adults. Read about her adventures here.
Fortunately for many of us, our children do not have to eat what is served in the school cafeteria. They can bring healthy and delicious food from home. In the Pre-K my child attends, school lunch is not an option so he is quite used to bringing a lunch every day. That won't change when he starts in a new school in the fall.
Today, Ben got a fun lunch: three mini pita sandwiches (you can get Mini Whole Wheat Pita Pockets at Trader Joes for $1.49), one with almond butter, one with tofu salad, and one with black bean spread; a homemade vegan banana flax muffin; carrots, celery, and dip; and grapes and strawberries. If you're wondering about that cool lunch box, it is a Laptop Lunch Bento Box, which I've been using for almost 2 years now. I love that thing; it cuts back on waste (no paper or plastic bags needed) and encourages me to include a variety of healthy foods every day (gotta fill those sections!) Most of you out there probably already know about the blog Vegan Lunchbox; the blogger, mom Jennifer McCann, has the Laptop Lunch systems as well (she showcases the one I have in older posts). I think that her family is the best-fed family on the planet!
Anyway, back to school lunch...The sad truth is that many families cannot afford to send their children to school with fresh, healthy food. They qualify for free or reduced school lunch, and since the USDA promises that the meal meets at least 1/3 of a child's daily requirement for nutrients, it should be a trusted program. Unfortunately, the meatball sub meal mentioned above DOES meet these requirements. But imagine if the standards were different -- imagine the meals had to meet OPTIMAL nutrition standards! Antioxidants. Phytochemicals. Fiber. Disease-preventing phytonutrients. The problem, as always, comes down to money: the government provides subsidized foods to school, mainly dairy products and meat. Healthy foods, in OUR system, are costly. It doesn't have to be that way.
In future posts I'll showcase some of the heroic pioneers who are transforming school lunches to make kids maintain a healthy weight, perform better in school, and have reduced risk of chronic diseases that are more frequently showing up in childhood, particularly heart disease and diabetes.