School lunches trying to become healthier

How do you feel about this? Are you happy to see school lunches at least trying to be more nutritional?

I know from working in a school that those cooks have a nasty job. They have to cook what the district tells them to and then everyone comes down on them personally if something doesn’t taste good. It really is a thankless job.

It’s also very tricky when you’re trying to cook for thousands of kids in 6 different lunch periods. Whether you realize it or not, it’s hard timing all the food for so many shifts and serve and clean it all up at the same time. I used to watch those women do that and it was like a dance. Everyone had their own job to do and off they went.

So I think now, with these changes, it’s going to be a little harder for the cooks at these huge schools just because without preservatives, things need to come more in their “natural habitat.” That means no more “mini carrots” so they will have to be washed and peeled. It’s going to take the cooks a lot longer to make lunch.

Do your kids eat a school lunch or do you pack a lunch? Do you worry about what your kids eat or don’t eat at lunch? I can also assure you, just because you pack your child a really healthy lunch, doesn’t mean they’re eating it. It used to make me ill the amount of food kids throw. If you saw what your kids put in the garbage, you’d pack them half of what you do. Especially if going outside is an option. MOST kids want to eat really fast and go out and play.

What do you think of this change? Will it affect if you pack or buy now?

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13 Responses to School lunches trying to become healthier

  1. Laura says:

    I love and hate this idea at the same time.

    Love: I look at my son’s lunch calendar every month, and there is more pizza, corn dog, chicken nugget, spaghetti, taco, chicken patty nonsense on there than you can believe. Granted, they are feeding k-8. Granted, it’s “kid food”, and most of it is baked, not deep-fried. And granted, they have to please 130 different palates. And that’s in a very small school. But still, I can definitely see room for improvement (she said, as she wolfed down a bag of Famous Amos chocolate chip cookies…) This is only one of the reasons that Josh only eats cafeteria food one day a week. We sit down with the menu at the beginning of each month, and he picks one day that he gets to eat there (and I get a break from making his lunch). Otherwise, it’s brown-bag (Star Wars lunchbox). He gets milk at school every day; more than likely, it’s chocolate.

    Hate: I absolutely hate the fact that, in the story, at least… they’re going for “smaller portions of meat and protein”. Suddenly, protein is the enemy. Meat is the enemy. It doesn’t have to be. I guess maybe in this context, because they’re feeding so many people, it does, because it’s expensive, but how else are these kids supposed to stay full? Eat a big salad, full of veggies, and an hour later, you’re going to be hungry. Add chicken breast to that salad – a decent portion, not three little slices – and you’re going to go a lot longer. But we live in a world where there is SO much conflict about food that nobody knows the truth.

    I would honestly prefer to see them cutting out the ‘bad stuff’ – HFCS in favor of real sugar, for example. Sugars, in general, truthfully. Useless carbohydrates, like bread and breading. I also don’t think that they need to skin so many things… I’ve taken to simply washing my carrots well, and leaving the “skin”. They don’t taste any different, and they’re just a little bit lumpier. In that context, they’re almost as easy as the baby carrots – a little more chopping, maybe, but I can’t believe that they didn’t have to wash the baby carrots, anyway. And here’s the mean mom in me – kids need to learn to eat the skin! Potatoes, carrots, apples, cucumbers… all of it.

    So I’m in favor of it, in general. I just wish they weren’t so afraid of protein. It’s a good thing, and they’re treating it like it’s this horrible thing. Protein doesn’t make you fat. It fills you up, so you eat less, and gives your body energy to burn. And these people have to understand that, no matter how hard they try, some people are NOT going to go vegetarian, which, if I put on my conspiracy hat for a minute, is where I think they’re trying to steer kids.

    Don’t even get me started on soy and estrogen…

  2. SKL says:

    The lunches at my kids’ new school are horrible. But lest my food nazi attitudes turn my kids off nutrition for life, I have decided to let them have the hot lunch one day per week, and it’s their choice which day. Tomorrow they will be having hot dogs (and they think that’s just awesome). Most days they will be eating pbj and fruit/veg from home. (I don’t tend to over-pack and I plan on telling my kids to bring home whatever they don’t eat. If it turns out they are not eating something, I at least want to know not to buy that any more.)

    I’m all for healthy food on the menu. However, I am still not convinced that hot lunch is actually a good thing in the great scheme of things. It is so expensive and no matter how you manipulate it, what actually goes into the kids’ stomachs is not going to be healthy. I would rather pay a fraction of the cost and offer cold sandwiches and uncooked fruits/vegetables. And if that isn’t good enough for some kids, let them come up with something on their own.

    I also wonder about the decision to cut protein. I don’t know how much they have already, but protein is pretty important. It can help kids think and behave better in school, among other things. I don’t mind them cutting starches, and I hope that when they talk about increasing vegetables, they aren’t talking mainly about iceberg lettuce, which is only slightly more nutritious than a glass of water. The reason I’m a bit skeptical is that this has been tried before, and in the end, they always end up going back to “what the kids are willing to eat.” Most of which is deep fried.

    Here’s the menu at my kids’ school for tomorrow through September 7: hot dog; hamburger; chicken sticks; stromboli; nachos; hot ham & cheese; tacos; chicken nuggets; meatball sub; chicken wrap; pizza. Each day there is a similar option (corn dog vs hot dog, cheeseburger vs hamburger), plus every day grilled cheese is an option. And people wonder why kids are getting fat? (Per the menu, they also serve chips/fries/pretzels, fruit, salad, and milk.)

  3. SKL says:

    Look how similar my and Laura’s answers are. Spooky! I didn’t see hers before I posted.

  4. Nikki says:

    I’ll have to see what Bailey’s school does with these changes. I am not happy about less protein. Some kids need that. Mine needs that. He loves school lunches, mainly because the variety he gets to choose from. It’s expensive though, almost $3 a day for lunch, and what are they eating??? Only a slice of pizza and carton of milk sometimes. Not a good lunch in my opinion. I ended up sending lunch with him. He usually tells me what he ate, and what he traded. Sometimes I don’t mind. I did it. He’s good about bringing home what he didn’t eat. But Bailey has a big appetite so I can’t see him wasting a lot of food. Then again, I know I’m not there. Middle school is different, in the aspect that they don’t rush through lunch to go outside for recess. That helps! I always hated that in elementary school, and the year Bailey left, they actually changed that. Recess first, then lunch. I’m all for more fruits and veggies, and less preservatives, IF they are being eaten. I’m not happy about less protein and meat. It will take the lunch cooks a lot longer, so maybe they will be payed more, maybe extra hours. I don’t know. It’s not a job I’d like to have.

  5. Joy says:

    I’m not crazy about them serving less meat either but I’m sure it’s because of the way they’d have to now buy it and make it. When you think of it now, for example, spaghetti with meat sauce, you know that “meat” is in the sauce already but now they may have to cook it up from ground beef/pork. It’s going to take a lot longer and it’s going to cost more money but I don’t know where that money is going to come from. Most likely our taxes.

    I’m sure they’ll hire a few more people. Most of those cooks are already at school already at 5-6 am because now so many schools serve breakfast and have child centers for kids before school so they couldn’t come any earlier and by the time they serve lunch and do all the clean up, school’s over for the day so I’m sure they’ll hire people to “cut, wash and cook” things.

    I think it’s great but I agree with the protein and I worry about kids getting hungry an hour or two after lunch. When you’re hungry it sometimes consumes you and how can kids l learn if they’re starving?

    I know in the schools I’ve been in, our lunches were 30 minutes and we made the kids stay in and eat for 10. After 10 minutes they could go out and play if they were done eating or wanted to go out and we felt they’d eaten enough. That’s all up to the person too so it’s nice when you have lunch lady who’ll say “how about eating your apple and then you can go out?” But, you know how that goes. Some people don’t care.

    *sigh* It’s a thankless job. I packed a LOT of lunches but I let my boys buy it whenever they wanted to. It didn’t seem like such “news” back then. I thought our lunches were really good.

  6. SKL says:

    I asked my kids what they had for lunch today. “Hot dogs, chips, and chocolate milk.” I said, “were there any fruits and vegetables?” “Oh, those were there in the cafeteria, but . . . oh yeah, after we finished our chocolate milk, we got a popsicle!” Miss A also stated that she got a grilled cheese sandwich. (I hope they don’t charge me for it!)

  7. Sue says:

    Here’s my take on it. I think it’s a great step in the right direction b/c less face it, school lunches (and any lunch in any cafeteria) is horrible for you b/c of all the prepackaged crap they use that is high in calories, sodium, preservatives and fat. I’m all for more fruits and veggies, but if you offer that along side chips, cookies, muffins and other junk on the a la carte, guess what kids are going to pick?

    As far as the less meat thing, my guess is it’s b/c they used processed meat for all of their meals and processed/pre-packaged = more fat and sodium, making it not a healthy choice to begin with. That and the portion sizes are probably not correct so they are changing it to closer reflect the guidlines. I can remember getting tacos or hamburger gravy and my tray was heaping with a pile of meat! According to http://www.choosemyplate.gov/food-groups/proteinfoods_amount_table.html, the TOTAL amount of protein a person needs daily is about 5 ounces. (A little higher for teen boys and young men, and less for children 2-3 years). 5 ounces is not very much! Beef, for example, is one small steak (eye of a round, filet) = 3.5-4 ounces. 1/2 of a small chicken breast = about 3 ounces! Not one chicken breast, but ONE HALF of a SMALL chicken breast! So, if you wanted to eat another protein source during the day, say a ham sandwhich which has 6 thin slices = 2 ounces) you could eat ONE HALF of a chicken breast for supper. The site did say that these are good guidlines for those that get less than 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day beyond normal activities. For those more active, more protein is fine. If you think of portion sizes now compared to what is recommended, it’s scary how overboard everything is!

    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with teaching kids about nutrition and offering them good options while at school and I don’t think the schools would have changed on their own. Makes me think of Jamie Oliver’s show about changing school lunches and how he did it under budget, but how much the school bucked it b/c they didn’t just have to rip open a box and throw it in the oven!

    • Sue says:

      I should add, I eat way more than 5 ounces of protein a day! I love me some beef!

    • Joy says:

      I like meat too.

    • Laura says:

      I take issue with the whole “5 oz of meat a day” thing. Now granted, this is coming from a woman who is coming to realize that she has some issues with carbs, but I eat protein at every meal. Eggs/whites for breakfast. Some sort of meat for lunch and dinner. I HAVE to have the protein, or I will be lethargic, cranky, and all kinds of nasty during the day. I eat a bowl of cereal for breakfast – even the healthiest high-fiber, nasty, no-taste bowl of twigs you can find – and an hour later, I’m chewing the walls down trying to find food. My stomach hurts, it’s growling so loud, and I’m cranky and tired.

      Contrast that with an egg supplemented with egg white, with a little bacon (about a tbsp) and some low-fat cheese thrown in, and I’m not hungry again until noon or after, depending upon when I ate (usually around 7)

      Having said that, I’m willing to bet that a good majority of kids are eating some sort of nasty carbs for breakfast – pop tarts, heavy sugar cereal, etc. And I count my own among them, because he gets the ‘nasty’ cereal occasionally. They have GOT to be hungry. And then to cut back on protein again? Bad idea.

      But I agree… it’s got to be GOOD protein – chicken without skin, fish without breading, lean pork, lean beef.

  8. Laura says:

    On one hand it’s pretty funny that they’re both so similar, but I suspect that if you asked moms across the country, you’re going to find similar answers. At least from middle-class moms. Probably from poorer moms, too. It’s only going to be those who see nothing wrong with the system that don’t have a problem with it.

    But I have to wonder if it’s ever going to change? “good” food is more expensive simply because of the “perishability” of it. A bag of carrots isn’t going to last nearly as long as a can of carrots, or frozen carrots. And when they use the frozen or canned, they’re cooked, which sucks out more nutrients.

    Truly, I don’t know what the answer is. There have been schools that have tried the “healthy options”, and they fail. The only ones I know of are the ones that Jamie Oliver, a professional chef, has gone into, and what schools are going to hire professional chefs to manage their cafeterias for them?

    It’s sad that SO many kids are buying their lunches now. I’ve heard stories of parents being pressured by schools to sign kids up for the school lunch program because the school gets more money based on “needy” kids – these are kids whose families are not needy at all, and whose parents made the conscious decision NOT to do school lunches. But they get the pressure anyway. We’re up against a massive bureaucracy – “I’m with the government and I’m here to help you.”

  9. SKL says:

    I think it’s a bad idea in general to assume the same guidelines work for every person. Some folks need more protein than others. Some can eat many times more carbs without consequences.

    Miss A needs protein. For one thing, she’s pretty active, all muscle – how else does a nearly-6yo wear size 2 shorts and still have an above-average BMI? For another thing, her behavior is affected by physical things such as going too long without protein. You can tell whether she had a protein-rich snack by how nasty she is come dinner time. Also, she loves certain chicken dishes and will eat a lot at those meals. (And I’m not talking about fried chicken.) Considering she picks at most foods, I’m not going to cut off her favorite chicken dish just because some government guideline says she’s had enough protein today. Her blood pressure is so low, it’s not even within the range listed as being healthy for kids. My thinking is that if her body tells her she needs some protein, she ought to get some protein. That said, I’m not talking about hot dogs or huge slabs of beef.

    As for frozen veggies, I heard that they keep the nutritional value because they are frozen before they get a chance to degrade.

    I would also say that there wouldn’t be so much issue of fresh produce going bad if people didn’t have so many other easy choices. I can’t imagine why they serve chips/fries/pretzels at every meal at school. Seems guaranteed to make kids pass by the fruit. Surely parents don’t ask for that? I mean, maybe once in a while, but every day? If a child is hungry she’ll eat. But if you fill her up with fun, empty calories, why should she want an apple? I don’t know why they think it’s a good idea to let little kids choose between healthy and unhealthy sides. I could see a choice between apples and carrots, but apples and chips? Hello?

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