School lunches are in the news again since Michelle Obama’s effort to provide healthier foods such as fruits and vegetables, whole gains, skim milk, and lean protein entrees (I applaud her efforts)-no more chicken nuggets, greasy pizza, french fries. In fact, potatoes were taken off the menu entirely which enraged the potato growers. I always thought that this was a mistake- potatoes can be a healthy food when prepared without frying and potatoes provide a healthy dose of potassium and vitamin C.
What do other countries do? In my Food and Culture classes, we studied the food and cuisines of other countries and found that many do address the school lunch in different ways, most of them healthier approaches. But in the U.S. many of our students are rejecting this healthier fare and throwing their lunches in the trash. Far fewer students choose the school lunch program and the older ones head for the nearest fast food restaurant or vending machines. The situation is now exacerbated by the GOP in the House attempting to ease the healthier regulations which in my opinion is a step backwards.
I have always thought that not enough attention is given to our children’s (the younger the better) education about food in general, let alone its health benefits. We can make the lunch time an educational moment if directed by knowledgeable people who can guide the students to pleasurable and mindful eating, often not achieved by many even in their own households. If teachers do not want this responsibility, maybe we can make this a worthwhile volunteer opportunity ( with a little training).
One experience in my university as an undergraduate was a pleasurable one as we ate lunch around a table with tablecloths, real dishes and cutlery with real food prepared on site in the dorm and had great humorous and sometimes provocative conversations. Do we do that anymore or have Styrofoam and plastic utensils taken over?
Two previous posts on this blog (here) and ( here) went into detail about some practices in Japan’s school lunch approach as well as that in France. They both used teachable moments during lunch time. Does anyone think these practices could be incorporated into our schools; I have some doubts, but it may be one of the first steps to change the food culture in our country to a healthier one than it is now. Many people are becoming more interested than ever before as to what is actually in our foods and change may be in the air. Let’s hope so!