Nasty School Lunches Boggle My Mind

LOL With Lauren Sanders

Yes, that is quite an incendiary title and it aptly describes my passion for setting the record straight on how we have come to allow ourselves to eat in our country. In particular how we, as families, have been slowly duped into taking our wholly sacred and essential part of our existence, our food, and:

  • Stripping it down
  • Mashing in a healthy heaping of chemicals for color, texture and shelf-life
  • Compressing and zipping it up in a plastic chemical-based bag with bold microwave instructions and calling it a life giving meal

No thank you!!! I don't stand alone in my rejection of our current appetite for preservative-laden meals. Our medical records reflect that our bodies are saying "no thank you" loudly and clearly. Dare I mention what the scales reflect? No.

We are trailblazing inventors in this land. We are idealists who have simply lost our way somewhere in our recipe for improving on and making food more convenient. Surely, we have to believe we are operating with the best intentions to provide wholesome foods for all, but somehow that is not what is happening. While our entire food industry could use a shakedown, let's start by focusing on the diet of our most vulnerable, those among us who are involuntary receptacles of the foods their caregivers put on their plates, bring in through the car window in a bag and serve up at lunch time in most of our schools across America - our children.

Consider that statistics show that school-age children consume more than half of their calories at school. That might set off some parenting alarm bells, if that school is serving mostly "nasty" foods that are a waste of time spent in your child's digestive tract. It's horrifying because the children are a captive audience, with often no real choice in the matter. Before I go any further let me take this moment to say a resounding thank you to all the hardworking lunch staff who keep our children fed. I can still see my favorite lunch ladies at Atkinson Elementary school. They always greeted me with a hair net, long handled spoon and a smille. They always remembered I was the student who didn't like her food to touch. With love and precision they artfully placed every kernel of corn so as to never make contact with my mashed potatoes and when I wanted extra gravy, they laddled it on. Thank you to the lunchroom clean up crew for braving the cold, sticky and half eaten foods stuck to trays. Thank you for pushing past the smelly tasks involved and rolling all the aftermath away with a smile. Just as we remember of favorite teachers we remember you too.

My working definition of nasty foods, in this case, are foods that are basically devoid of any real value and worse force young bodies to work overtime trying to process and eliminate all the chemicals and additives, leaving their bodies at risk for sickness and disease. It seems to me, that while we look to teach, mold and educate our children in their school subjects and on issues involving character, we are attempting to do our very best by them and be smart about things. Why then do we slip into an ignorant state when it comes to our food? Ignorant is a strong term, what I mean is our food choices are blatantly incongruent with the information that we have swirling about us telling us over and over again that there is the intrinsic value in fueling our bodies with real foods that some say were "intended" to be eaten, foods that were on our earth before industrialization. Ever driven by a cheese stick orchard or seen a Ritz cracker bush in bloom or maybe spied a cheese whiz patch? I agree, these inventions are tasty but they are little more than that, inventions, someTHING someone was able to create, box, sing a jingle about and get you to buy.


I have to digress a bit on the cheese issue. When did cheese become a healthy food item? Help me understand how a milk (unless organic, with growth hormones and antibiotics) and fat based product that sits in your stomach and ferments and renders your trips to the bathroom less than pleasant is something that growing, active children need to eat daily. How is it that learned, well-read school administrators dole out cheese sticks as if they are doing the students a favor? Last time I checked, chronic constipation is no friend to a pleasant mood, clear thinking and a vigorous game of dodge ball.

I know we can do better. We have to, for our children and ourselves.


Our nation's first lady, Michelle Obama apparently has enough data on hand to know that our children's poor diets, lack of exercise and shocking rates of obesity are worthy of national attention and immediate change. Hence, the national, "Let's Move" campaign and now, this past month, the US Department of Agriculture announced the advent of new school lunch guidelines to limit calories, saturated fats, sodium and sugar in our nation's school lunch foods. This is a step to be heralded. We are opening our eyes, getting involved and taking steps toward critical change.

Our children need us to lead the way in better food choices. We all know how they will stray a bit from our teachings, but if the foundation is there, they will come back to home training at some point and so you are directly effecting their lives and the generations to follow. While our children are away in the care of our schools, the hope is we can say goodbye to preformed mystery meats, and hello to great tasting, hormone and antibiotic-free, free-range chicken nuggets. Goodbye to cheese, as a great source of protein and vitamin D, and hello to hummus and kale, with vinegar and sesame oil, it's fabulous. If the caregivers lick their vegetable plates, I am confident our children will follow suit. So, how can we get these pint-sized beings with picky palates to jump on the real foods bandwagon? It will take some acting, some bribing likely, at least at first, and some creative seasoning and food pairings. However, once we get the ball rolling at school AND at home these kids will become champions of good living, cursing the greasy fast food bag as passé', outdated and just not cool. (I may be in a fantasy world just a bit on that one).

Just for starters,here are some quick tips for adding more real foods into your family's diet, in case you aren't able to send a lunch to school or the lunches are not as great as you would like:

A. Don't bother bringing, 12 teaspoons of addictive sugar in every can, soda into your house. Clean water is THE thirst quencher, the life giver. If you don't bring the soda in the house, you will cut down on a lot of nastiness.

B. Start the morning in your house with water and a cut up apple on the table, before anyone has anything else. That way you know fruit is leading the way. (An apple a day......)

C. Start reading the labels on the packaged foods you buy. There's a lot you'll want to see and a lot that will make you say what the heck is that?

D. Uplift yourself from a family food rut. Look for new recipes using the real foods you know your family already enjoys and then add some new real food item....sneaky.


E. Talk to your school personnel. Let them know you appreciate their efforts toward caring for your child, but that you want to see healthful, helpful foods being served during their school day....maybe that's a letter to your congressperson as well.


One thing I know for sure, food is personal. It's almost as taboo to discuss as religion, politics and parenting. But, if we could all put aside our egos for a moment and our rationalizations about cheezits and hot dogs and actually think, I believe we can and will see the light and do the right thing to bring our children's health and our own, back in check. Food, save water, sleep and breathing is one of a handful of our shared human experiences. Let's serve up the best we can. Our lives depend on it.

That brings me to another thing........we'll look at that next time!

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