Thursday, April 26, 2012

Bariatric Betty and the Truth about School Lunches

So I've been enjoying (most of) my work as a school monitor.  It definitely gives me a better insight as to what happens in elementary school these days.  The stresses kids face - lots of rules, bullying, social skill struggles, learning difficulties, et al.  It has also given me an upclose look at what goes on in school lunchrooms.  It's not pretty. 

The entree/ protein source sometimes has less protein than you would like.  For instance, macaroni & cheese - not high protein, but very high in carbs and fat.  Likewise cheese quesadillas.  Chicken fries, popcorn chicken, chicken in any chosen shaped heavily breaded and baked, but still greasy.  Turkey and mashed potatoes - sounds good on paper, but I have to tell you that the turkey cubes in semi-clear gravy scooped over a scoop of mashed potatoes looked (and smelled) like dog food.  Definitely doesn't resemble any turkey I've ever seen served in a home.  I think the subs (roast beef, turkey, etc) look a bit healthier - although the amount of bread/ protein ratio is low.

In my school district, as in many others, school lunches are not cooked, they are warmed.  They are canned, pre-cooked and frozen, and preserved to death.  My sons love broccoli, and I wondered why they used to wrinkle their noses when I would say "Oh, they're having broccoli for lunch today".  Now I know why.  When they say your child is getting steamed broccoli, they mean steamed broccoli stems.  You know, the part you cut off when you serve the "little trees" to your kids.  I was walking around the tables and started counting how many times I actually saw a floret on a try.  1 in 6.  Otherwise, all stems.  And the lucky ones who got a floret only got one.  Plus all of the broccoli was that lovely grey-green that looks oh-so-appetizing.  Needless to say, it doesn't get eaten. 

Doesn't get eaten?  OK, you're not shocked, because our kids don't usually CHOOSE to eat vegetables.  And most of them don't CHOOSE to eat them at school.  Cooked carrots?  In the trash.  Ditto peas, green beans, etc.  They will eat almost any form of potato (as long as it's not covered in the gravy).  But at least they get fruit, right?  Sure - they get canned peaches, canned pears, fruit cocktail, diced pineapple, sometimes their fruit choice is sherbet or fresh fruit.  Want to guess what they choose?  Right, sherbet.  Want to guess how much of the rest of the fruit gets eaten?  Almost none.

Then there is the grain portion of our meal.  Don't be confused - some of the proteins have grains already, but then we add corn muffins, rolls, blueberry muffins - or a new one that surprised me: "Pop Tart Crisps".  Little Pop Tart pastry pieces, without the fruit filling inside, but with the frosting and sprinkles. 

So the schools have made a real effort to make healthy choices available to kids, but for the most part they are a la carte items - you have to pay extra.  String cheese, yogurt, and fresh fruit are available every day where I work - but the fresh fruit is only oranges.  Most of the kids won't get them because they get frustrated with the peels.  I usually see maybe one or 2 kids a day get the yogurt or string cheese. 

So what do I see happening with most school lunches?  The kids drink about half of their milk or water bottle, eat 50-75% of their entree, and throw the rest away.  And then they ask if they can get snack.  Then they run to the ice cream freezer to get popsicles and ice cream.

Do I think we need to hire people to stand over the kids and force them to eat healthy?  No.  But I do think parents should be aware of what their kids are eating and NOT eating at school. 

Here's the part I think is saddest.  When I do see kids making an effort to eat their fruits and vegetables, it's usually the heavy kids.  They've heard what we've been saying; that they need to eat healthier.  And they're hungrier.  And they eat the overcooked broccoli stems and grimace.  But is it helping them in the long run?  Because they are learning that vegetables taste gross for the most part.  And the fruit they're getting is in syrup, so their blood sugar is going to be super elevated and then plummet, making them hungry again sooner. 

Some days they have extra entrees available for an additional price.  Popcorn chicken, mac & cheese, or quesadillas.  There will be a rush up there to get some more or the popular choices.  But just the other day I was shocked to see the mac & cheese being served in 2 cup bowls.  They literally got two additional servings after eating the first one.  Add to that the blueberry muffin they ate, and the some of the kids ate 4-5 servings of grains in 1 sitting. 

My kids pack their lunches - not because I have been worried about what they're eating but because it's their preference.  We are a vegetarian family, and they didn't like having to figure out if there was meat in their options.  Do they get ice cream and popsicles?  Probably more often than I would like.  Do I sometimes feel guilty because I didn't pack a vegetable that day?  Often.  And do I see kids with packed lunches skipping the healthy stuff they had packed for them?  Frequently.

Here's my list of what healthy choices I see actually being consumed in packed lunches:  Grapes, strawberries (with the tops cut off), bananas, string cheese, crackers and cheese, carrots, and yogurt, pasta salads with cut up meat and veggies.  Most of the peanut butter and jelly doesn't get eaten.  Most of the cold cut sandwiches get taken apart and dissected, but not eaten.  My advice - find out what protein sources your kids will eat after it has been sitting in a lunch box for 4 hours.  Pack more finger foods.  Consider getting rigid food storage containers to put their lunch in because they won't eat stuff that looks smashed. 

We can't let our kids grow up with us being "helicopter parents" and making all their choices for them  - then they don't GROW UP, they just get bigger.  But we need to be aware of the choices they have and the choices they are making.

1 comment:

  1. Your school really has an icecream freezer? That is crazy! I wasn't 100% in love with my kids food choices but I didn't see anything that bad. They did have 1 pizza day a week and the chicken nuggets looked very processed but an icecream freezer and poptarts is crazyland.