Why is it So Hard to Get a Good School Lunch?
First, the good news. For the first time in 15 years, the USDA has proposed raising nutrition standards for school lunches. Maybe we are finally moving on from the bad old days of “ketchup is a vegetable.” The USDA’s aim is to reduce the trans fats, sodium and calories kids are eating, and that’s significant, because according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, most kids consume half their daily calories at school. Half.
Change can come slowly. Jamie Oliver is in the second year of his reality show “Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution.” When it premiered back in March 2010 he helped 12,000 students in West Virginia eat better, but things haven’t gone as smoothly here in Los Angeles, where he wants to bring the show now. The Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD) has issued a flat out “no” to his request to film in their cafeterias. It seems that LAUSD doesn’t want the exposure, especially the reality show kind.
“Reality TV has a formula. You either have to have drama or create conflict to be successful. We’re not interested in either,” Robert Alaniz, a spokesman for LAUSD, said.
Oliver is planning to open a kitchen in the Westwood area of LA instead, and says he will offer free cooking classes there. He’s gotten permission to film in schools outside of the LAUSD system. He’s lobbying the LA Board of Education and trying to get parents to write to school officials to convince them to put better lunches in schools. Word is from some parents that officials are listening – officials want change but change is slow. They’re saying the same thing in the city of Huntington, CA. where Oliver got permission to film. School officials there are going to allow his cameras in their cafeterias, they say, because “we want to be on the right side of history.” But the Huntington district spokesperson also admitted that while they’re working for better school lunch choices,”we’re having some trouble getting the kids to eat the food. It’s a change that’s going to take some time.”
There it is again. That phrase, it’s going to take time. Megan Chernin, Chair and Board of Directors of MLA Partner Schools, writing in The Huffington Post, said that 50 percent of the children she serves in her schools in South LA’s most challenged communities are obese or close to it. Schools that are working hard to raise educational standards sometimes leave nutrition behind. But we know that no child who is hungry or eating unhealthy food can do the best job at learning.
There is progress: Megan Chernin says that her schools keep good nutrition on the radar, and while Jamie Oliver is a showman, he is also doing good. His “Feed Me Better” campaign in the UK was a success, as least measured by the British Government’s reaction to it. The UK added $1 billion to school food budgets. Many credit Oliver’s “Food Revolution” with helping the Healthy Hunger-Free Act to become law, raising standards for school lunches for the first time in 15 years. Education – for parents and kids – is key. Kids may not like the healthy choices at first – but at least we owe it to them to give them choices.
In May 2010, in my blog I wrote about what I feed my kids: “When I cook, I cook what my husband and I want to eat (and what we WANT our kids to eat) but, lets be honest, what parents like eating vs what the kids want to eat is often not the same thing! I can’t tell you how many times I’ve told my kids, that our home kitchen is not a restaurant! So in addition to what recipes I am preparing for that night’s dinner, I always prepare a whole grain dish, usually quinoa or brown rice. That way, the kids know there’s one nutritious item being served that they’ll WANT to enjoy because belief it or not, my kids like whole grains. And that is simply because I put a dish of rice on the table frequently.
Jamie Oliver moved his family to Southern California to do his show, but not surprisingly, his children will not be eating L.A. Unified school food. They will attend private school. Just like my kids. Though, private vs public schools is a topic for another day, I’ve watched what kids from more affluent families eat, and it is not all that better than what kids are eating elsewhere. Certainly, the public eye has been looking at under-privileged kids that don’t have parents preparing a home-cooked hot meal every night or access to a natural foods market. Unfortunately, all American kids are subject to eating poor quality fatty cheap over-sugared foods. I’m with Jamie, Mrs. Obama, and everyone who is working hard to make changes in what our children eat. From my perspective, the ‘privileged’ kids have many of the same challenges. It amazes me that parents who are well educated feed their kids the same crappy fatty cheap junk foods that are found in poorer communities.
For example, recently my daughter came home sick from a sleep over. Breakfast was an undercooked meal of chocolate chip pancakes with hot chocolate drowning with so much chocolate, she said it was gross! I see this all the time, since when do we need chocolate chips in an already sweet pancake? Here’s a great place to slip in bananas or berries! Hot chocolate on a hot spring morning? Where’s the OJ? Do parents really think that’s what their kids want to eat? We need to stop and take a good look at this no matter what ‘hood’ you live in.