FOOD, FACTS and FADS

Exploring the sense and nonsense of food and health

School Lunch – Lessons from the Kids?

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Two chicken nuggets

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A recent news report this past week was entitled “LA schools healthful lunch menu panned by students”.   At first glance, this seems disappointing but a closer look may give the reasons.

Last fall a new menu was introduced by the L.A. Unified School Services to help the campaign against obesity and diabetes and was hailed as an innovative step to provide healthful food.  Previously, the district had banned sodas and the sale of junk food and called for more produce and less salt and fat to be served.  Early in this year, they eliminated chocolate and strawberry milk, chicken nuggets, corn dogs, nachos and high fat foods.  Sounds great, right?

The menu flopped – so what happened?  Meals were rejected and participation in the school lunch program decreased by the thousands.  Students threw away entrees and some refused lunch; underground markets for chips, candy, fast-food burgers began to thrive. It was compared to Prohibition, said one school principal.

A previous study in 2007 concluded that kids would eat healthy school food.  They found that when they analyzed five years of data for 330 Minnesota public school districts schools serving the healthiest lunches did not see a falloff in demand.

So what happened ?   Included in the new ” revolutionary” menu were vegetarian curries and tamales, quinoa salads and pad Thai noodles.  There were more exotic dishes like beef jambalaya, lentil and brown rice cutlets,  black-eyed pea salads, and Caribbean meatballs.  Maybe it was a little too “revolutionary”?

Why in the world would you provide foods unfamiliar to Western palates?  Why go to such extremes?  In the Minnesota study with positive results, they offered more fruits and vegetables, but still had hot dogs – only the hot dogs were of the turkey low-fat variety.

Now the L.A. school district is revising their menu – they still want to stay with healthier foods like fruits and vegetables, but are bringing back hamburgers and even pizza (now a vegetable according to the government).  But this time the pizza will have a whole-wheat crust, low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce.

The school district’s deputy director David Binkle says: “We’re trying to put healthier foods in place and make food that kids like, and that’s a challenge.  But we want to be responsive and listen and learn”.

Isn’t this just common sense?  I applaud the idea but perhaps not the method.  Parents have a tremendous role to play here, too.  Upon commenting on the Minnesota study proposal on healthier foods, one parent wrote: “My kids weren’t given a choice of food. They were expected to eat the meal I prepared.   You hear parents say, ‘they only like the chicken nuggets’ or ‘they only like the sugar-coated cereal”.  Well WHO is the one who gave them that trash in the first place?”

Many lessons learned here!!! By the way, they are not bringing back chocolate milk (probably the least of the problems), nachos, deep-fried corn dogs, and hopefully not chicken nuggets

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2 thoughts on “School Lunch – Lessons from the Kids?

  1. I appreciated that the food service worked with many of the foods the people enjoyed (as pizza) and made them healthier.

    And yes, cooking from scratch may take more employees and more time, but I agree with Stealthy Mom, it sure is healthier in the long run….and although I don’t have the scientific evidence to bear it out…I believe nutrition does affect behavior, grades, etc

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  2. Good Comment. Thanks for the input.

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  3. I have been working for months to “reformulate” my kids’ favorite meals for lower sodium. The first step is to cook from scratch. If these schools want to make this happen, they will have to fire Conagra and Aramark and hire a few prep cooks.

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