The subject of healthy meals at school has been consuming alot of my thoughts lately so I thought I would share my feelings on this hot topic and also tell you why this has become an issue in my family.
We all want our children to eat healthy food right? We may put alot of time and effort into making their meals as nutritious and healthy as possible but we sometimes we may not be in charge of their food options. The majority of children attend public school and monitoring what they eat while at school can be hard to do. As a parent, you may need to step in to make sure your child is being given healthy options.
There are programs in place that require certain nutritional standards to be met. Within these standards, there are a lot of menu options schools can choose so that children can be given a variety of foods while staying nutritious and within the schools financial means. There are a few problems with this plan however. First, the dietary guidelines set out for school may not comply with what you think is healthy for your child. This is exactly what I have found to be the case within my six year old son’s school. On his first day of school after our move to Ohio I gave him lunch money so that he could buy lunch and get a feel for the process. He had never been to school all day before so lunch had never been an issue. After his first day I asked what he had eaten for lunch and he told me he ate a salad, a meat (he couldn’t specify what it was), a brownie, a piece of cake, a cookie, and chocolate milk. Does anyone else see a problem here? I sure did.
The second problem with school nutrition plans is that schools receive funding for following guidelines, but they are still not required to abide by them. Their seems to be no accountability if they stray to cheaper and unhealthier food options.
If you question the nutritional value of your childs lunch, you can either request menus be sent to you, or if possible, go have lunch with them a few times and see what theyre eating. If you dont feel the menu meets high enough standards, make that known. Talk to the principal, the PTA, the school board, or the person in charge of menu planning. Find other parents who agree with you and take a stand. BUT I know this may sound good in theory and be less successful in action.
When I discovered what my child had eaten I went to my local community forum and brought it to their attention. They were NOT supportive in the least. In fact some were downright hostile and said that my son had to be lying. A school official who was notified about the thread joined and posted that what my son had said was in NO way possible. Then the the discussion took a bizarre turn and some parents became angry that I was trying to “change” something within the schools that may end up costing them (the parent) more money. You see the teachers that work there say it is a funding issue….without more money from the state or more money from the parents they simply cannot afford to hire cooks, buy whole foods, and feed the kids healthy food. And if they divert more money to healtheir foods then they can’t provide free luches to poor students. Well, some parents automatically saw my message as one that could either cost them more money or hurt the FREE lunch program. The ears closed and I was told to back off. I am amazed that the parents and school clearly showed me that money is more important than the health of the kids. Homeschool is looking like a mighty fine option right now. I also feel really sad that my small community is putting the needs of the kids in a secondary position. But I take comfort in being able to say it doesn’t work that way in MY family. :)
So….the most logical option to ensure your child is eating right at school is to pack their lunch yourself. The problem is, theres no guarantee your child is eating their lunch and not someone elses. There are only so many teachers that can monitor lunch time, and unless your child has strict dietary restrictions, they really cant ensure there isnt lunch trading going on. That is why it is our responsibility to teach our children about healthy eating habits. I am now packing my son’s lunch everyday but then again I had always intended to….I just wanted to give my son the opportunity to learn about the lunch purchase process in case he ever needed to buy someday in the future. So I have taken charge and I am doing my best to ensure that his lunch everyday is healthy.
While you and I may feel that schools should be required to serve healthy lunches, that doesnt mean they do. Some steps may be taken in the right direction, but you may need to help give those nutritional programs a nudge. So how do YOU feel about the school lunch program in your child’s school? What steps have you taken to ensure your child is eating healthy lunches? Leave me a comment and let me know.
Sunday, April 8th, 2007