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Eating lunch at school…

Eating lunch at school…

Today was a rushed morning.  I am sure you all have them.  We had forgotten last night to put the lunchbox ice packs back in the freezer and we got up a bit late.  So, Mike says “Instead of packing lunch, why don’t we just let them get the school lunch?”  So, with trepidation, we checked the school lunch menu.

Today’s school lunch is…

Choice of:
Tater-Tot Casserole
Taco Salad
*Ham & Cheese Sandwich
Mini Mouse Salad

*Fresh Apple and California Blend Vegetables

The asterisks are next to what they consider “Lift Off’s Healthy Choices”  (which is a bit of a joke if you see what Lift-Off thinks is healthy).

The contractor Sodexo runs the cafeteria here, so I am assuming that a lot of your kids in other cities and states are also eating the same thing.  How many of you have eaten lunch with your kids at school lately and seen what these words on paper really mean and what selections kids are actually making?

We let our kids get school lunch about once per month, usually for our convenience on a day like today, not because they get to choose the day based on the menu.  And there are plenty of days when I look at the menu and say “I can’t let them eat any of these things; I will just pack their lunch after you take them to school and drop it by later.”  Today, I thought I would let them get the taco salad.  I have seen it before, mostly a big plate of corn chips (which are hopefully just corn, oil, and salt) with about 1 tablespoon of iceberg salad mix and 1 tablespoon of ground meat pellets (I really do not want to know what is in those).  You would think I would choose the “mini mouse salad”, except in a school of over 500 kids, the day I asked for 5 of those for me and my four daughters, I was told that they only make up 2 or 3 for the entire school since no one picks that.  So, that is not really an option, it is just on the menu for PR purposes, I guess.  Maybe one or two teachers actually choose it so there is enough for them?

To help the girls make good choices, Mike will be joining them for lunch.  One of many issues I have with the lunch is that after picking the entrée, the kids (mine are kindergarteners) are asked if they want the fruit choice (usually something canned in light syrup) OR the veggie choice.  Note the capitalized “OR”.  Actually, kids are allowed to get BOTH, but the way they are asked implies they have to choose, so almost all the kids or course pick the fruit over the veggie.  So, it seems that very few veggies are doled out; there will be very little “California Blend Vegetables” on kids plates today.

A positive is that they have a pseudo salad bar available.  It is not really a salad bar in the sense that you are familiar with, more a cold bar to display four or five specific fruits and veggies.  For example, they may have several bins with things like cucumber slices, apples, baby-cut carrots, pickles, etc.  but not really the fixings for a complete salad.  Also, the kids are given unlimited access to ranch dressing, so they may be getting more ranch than veggies.  I have also seen kids get ranch from there and then dip their entrée (such as pizza or chicken nuggets) in it.  flavored milks

Actually, the first hurdle the kids face in the lunch line is the milks.  The menu lists “variety of milks”.  What that means is they offer low-fat white, HFCS-sweetened chocolate, and HFCS-sweetened strawberry.  I counted the milks on the line of tables my girls eat at one day.  Of about 50 kids, 2 chose white, 3 chose strawberry and all the rest had chocolate.  So, Mike is there to also help our girls make the better choice of white milk since the school thinks that kindergarteners are mature enough to decide on their own to forgo large amounts of a sugar-like substance in their milk…not.

I have to share another of the “Lift-off Healthy Choice” selections with you.  It is served two Thursdays a month at the girls’ school and listed on the menu as “Fun on the Run Y & P”.  The Y & P stands for yogurt & pretzel.  It consists of a bag with a white flour soft pretzel, TRIX yogurt, and a rice krispy treat.  Most kids then add the HFCS-chocolate milk to that.  This is what they consider a “healthy choice”??  I was shocked the day I ate with my girls (we packed) and saw one of their friends pull these items one by one out of her bag.

rice krispy treat

We all know that rice krispy treats are a dessert, right?  Go check the ingredients on TRIX yogurt and see what is really in there.  And why does the entire bag only have 1 gram of fiber according to the nutrients supplied by Sodexo?  Could they not find a pretzel that was at least 50% whole wheat to put in there with the other “candy”? This is what your kids are eating.Trix Yogurt

Before anyone jumps down my throat as is often done to Mrs. Q from the Fed Up with School Lunch blog saying “Well it is fine for you to be all elitist since you can afford to pack your girls a healthy lunch.  For some kids, the school breakfast and lunch is the only food they will have all day!” Um, I say, yeah, I totally agree with the last part.  That is why the only food the kids have all day needs to be HEALTHY food with lots of fresh fruits and vegetables, not Trix yogurt and rice krispy treats.  I know it has to be cheap since the government gives them less than $2 a day per kid for free lunch and half of that goes to labor and facility expenses.  But, our school is about 50% free and reduced lunch, so what they are serving each day is a major part of these kids diets.  These kids do not have the luxury or going home and having a snack of organic apples and natural peanut butter washed down with local organic milk from pastured cows..I know that.  Um, that is my point.  Obviously, what they eat at school matters.  While we are lucky enough to be able to take the option of packing our girls lunches, my heart breaks for the kids and parents that do not have that option and are offered foods of dubious nutritional quality.  Yes, I am sure that the “nutrients” meet whatever federal guidelines are required for Sodexo to get reimbursed by the government for the meal, but that doesn’t mean the meal was quality.  We as a society will pay for short-changing our kids nutritionally in 10-30 years as medical costs continue to skyrocket and more children are diagnosed with “adult-onset” diabetes.

OK, I am getting off my soapbax now.  Need to go plan a healthy veggie-heavy dinner for the kids since they are eating lunch at school today.  🙂

What are your thoughts?


About feedingmytribe

Mom to four 10-year-olds. Trying to find my way through the confusing world of food and nutrition to provide my girls with a healthy start in life.

3 responses »

  1. I am soooo on your soapbox! I sent nutrition info to my girls’ school too. I am trying to get flavored milks removed too. My girls only drink white milk…and they are proud to tell me they picked it too.

    Question- what foods do you serve your tribe for breakfast…easy & quick are what I’m looking for :o)

  2. Mike got to school and the food was different, apparently, he had read the menu wrong. It actually turned out better since one of the options was a baked potato. Not sure where the protein in this meal was supposed to be, but the girls had a baked potato with steamed broccoli (no plastic cheese sauce, please) and oranges wedges from the “garden bar” with white low-fat milk. We declined the green cake with orange frosting. 🙂 I guess dinner will have to include a big hunk of protein.

    What I posted above was yesterday’s menu, so still a snapshot of school lunches around here. But this was the actual menu for today:

    Choice of:
    Baked Potato Bar
    Cheese Nachos
    *Chicken Sandwich
    *Buffalo Chicken Wrap
    Pepperoni Salad

    Sides: *Broccoli w/Cheese
    and Birthday Cake (wonder whose birthday it was at every elementary school in the district???)

    Here is where I question “Lift-off’s healthy choices” which have the star next to them. The chicken sandwich which has a star was a white bun with a breaded formed chicken patty. Kind of a sad and less pleasant looking McDonald’s chicken sandwich (the value menu one, not the more expensive one that has an actual chicken filet under all the breading, but the one that has pureed chicken bits plus lots of fillers). I would have taken a picture for you, but the kids might have wondered why I was photographing their lunch tray. BTW, the broccoli was noticably absent from almost all the kids trays.

    But, the baked potato, which was an actual vegetable (a starchy one, but still a vegetable in is real form) did not get a star. I wonder if kids should pick the food WITHOUT the stars to get the healthier choices.

    And since when did “cheese nachos” which consisted of a pile of tortilla chips with plastic cheese sauce on top count as a lunch entree. Maybe an occassional snack at a ball game from the snack bar, but not a meal that a child eats at school on a regular basis. Sheesh.

  3. Pingback: The 2012 Farm Bill – get your voice heard in support of kids nutrition « Feeding My Tribe

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