Friday, May 04, 2007

"Lunch Lessons" for Parents

In my last blog posting I was upset about fast-food philanthropy brought to us courtesy of our friends at NewsCorp, owners of Fox and American Idol. I had criticized the Idol Gives Back spectacle as a hollow "attempt to create a diet based on vitamin-fortified french fries."

Little did I know that this is the prevailing strategy in many school lunch programs. reports that "Schools acquire taste for faux-junk food." I saw that headline and wondered what exactly was "faux junk food." I mean, if it is already junk, how can it be "faux?" Turns scools are adopting a strategy that cuts fat and calories by "furtively supplementing hamburgers with soy and subbing applesauce for shortening in cake." In West Virginia, deep fried breakfast donuts are "fortified with 5 grams of protein and 14 minerals and vitamins."

I was surprised to see that the director of nutrition policy at the Center for Science in the Public Interest was quoted by as supporting the faux-junk food offerings as "helpful" and "part of the solution."

Count me as appalled. We are barely feeding our kids food in this case. And what happens when they grow up with a taste for burgers and donuts and (non-fortified) "pancake on a stick." What will they eat once they make their own food choices?

I emailed this article to a friend and she told me that our neighboring-county schools are not allowed to have knives in the school kitchen, as it would pose a liability risk. So the cafeteria workers are only allowed to use box cutters to open the massive cardboard boxes full of frozen foods. We have local farms that could supply the schools with produce, but you'll need more than box cutters to prepare fresh food.

There are calls for sanity out there. Alice Waters of Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley has started the Edible Schoolyard movement that aims to provide kids a real meal at school. Think about how important that is for the children who count on school breakfast and lunches as the most reliable meals of the day. When Alice Waters calls for a "Delicious Revolution" it makes my mouth water. I taught at a school in San Francisco that followed her advice and I can tell you that the excellent fresh food was a huge benefit. I taught until I was seven months pregnant and I am happy to report that my school lunches kept me going during a very energetically draining time.

As individual parents I can recommend that we look at our school cafeteria offerings and send our kids to school with a healthy packed lunch if necessary. The book Lunch Lessons: Changing the Way We Feed Our Children provides dozens of kid-friendly recipes, nutritional information, and resources.

I admit I am the first one to need to study a few lunch and dinner lessons. My 7-year-old has become very set in her ways and only likes a handful of meals. My strategy is to start cooking more as a family this summer. We do have one recent victory to declare. She has decided that she will eat broccoli, as long as I am not looking!

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Anonymous Lisa Giebitz said...

Wow! I'm glad there are programs like "Edible Schoolyard" out there. My husband and I want to homeschool and plan on doing a garden ourselves when our child is old enough.

I think it's a huge mistake to think that fortifying crappy foods make them "healthy" or "okay". The vitamins in, say, broccoli do your body good because of other things in the broccoli that help them work. Shooting up doughnuts sounds like a cop-out to get away with continuing 'win-win' food supplying contracts and the mistaken believe that "real food" would be expensive.

11:49 AM  
Blogger Robert P said...

Another great entry. We have been forced through food allergies to supply fresh, organic foods to one of our kids, so the temptation to weasel out and provide junk is low. Having said that, our other child is also becoming set in her ways about what she will and will not eat. My turkey scallopini salad was yucky...but eventually eaten after enough tears and trades.

Things are not all rosy close to home, the Rainbow Soccer league has decide to allow vendors at the games to sell junk food. A slap in the face to the health-benefits of getting our kids up and about.

11:47 AM  
Blogger MojoMom said...

Robert, I am so sorry to hear that Rainbow Soccer is giving junk food vendors access to our kids. It blows my mind that you can't go anywhere these days without being offered free candy, free cookies, or junk food for sale. How can soccer, swimming, etc. be a net positive if these activities are consistently paired with junk food? Our diets are becoming completely saturated with crap. I know as a parent we have the responsibility to regulate it but it's very annoying to have to say "no" all the time.

My daughter was upset last night because she couldn't understand why we weren't serving dessert at home. When we ran ticked off the sugar we'd already consumed that day it was pretty eye-opening.

The one good thing I can say about our family's diet is that we don't drink soda. My daughter has had one or two tastes of it in her lifetime but that's it.

12:02 PM  
Anonymous Tami Schwerin said...

I think this needs much attention. Thank you for the blog entry. Like you say, it's easy enough for us to provide our kids with wholesome nutritious foods, but what about the parents that are working 3 jobs and really count on that cafeteria food. It's ridiculous to think kids can learn while eating that non food.

This needs to change and soon!!

3:48 PM  
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11:05 PM  
Blogger RocketMom said...

I love that your daughter will only eat broccoli when you're not looking. Our 5-year old son is very particular, so that we have to be rather creative sometimes. My favorite story: After he suddenly decided he didn't like mango (which, incidentally, he had been eating for years) we invented a new word for it, "mananago melon". Mananago melon was devoured without hesitation, until such time as the word "mango" came back into favor.

p.s. I just found your site, and I love it!

6:59 PM  

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