I have a whole chapter and section on lunch in the book … but for a minute, let’s discuss school lunch in the United States of America.
I would love to lobby for more time at lunch for the students, but the argument must be clear before I even begin the process. There are just too many factors involved. However, I have learned that often, those problem ‘factors’ are really just ‘symptoms’ of a smaller, more concise catalyst. The key to solving the problem then, is not ‘cutting off the head of the hydra’ (it just grows another one, remember?). The key is figuring out where its’ weak spot is… and taking it down ALL at once.
If you’re interested, please, read on… and feel free to comment:
One of the many obstacles, as a family, that we have had to overcome in the dietary adjustments required to keep my daughters off of medication is the dreaded School Lunch. Here are the main ‘problems’ associated with it:
- Time. School lunch in the U.S.A. is SHORT. From 20 to 25 minutes. And that includes walking to and from the lunch room, and in-the-line time. This leaves about 10 to 15 minutes for students to eat, and heaven-forbid, socialize. Let alone eat the healthy food.
- Quality. School lunch in the U.S.A. is not freshly prepared. Companies provide meals pre-cooked and/or frozen that are thrown in the oven, microwave, or stove top to be re-heated. The meals are uber-processed.
- Low Nutritional Value. The meals are high in refined carbohydrates, cholesterol, dairy, and sugar. Even with the new health initiatives from The White House, per Mrs. Obama, (Let’s Move) the changes have made little difference in our little town, some improvements have been noted and more veggie options are available, but overall, the lunches are chicken nuggets et al. Oh, and there’s even a National Chain Pizza Day (on top of the National Chain Pizza parties for incentive).
Affecting these three basic aspects are these:
- Funding. In the last 20 years, funding for education has suffered major cuts. For example, PTA’s have been replaced in smaller counties with PTO’s for many reasons, socio-political or otherwise, but mostly to off-set the lack of funding. (PTO’s focus primarily on fund-raising, not political lobbying, administrative issues, or grievances.)
- Rising Costs. Inflation is a fact of life in a capitalist society. As costs have risen, quality has plummeted. Cheap and easy is the norm.
- Population increase. Especially in Urban and Suburban areas, the economy has forced many to move closer to work (i.e. cost of gas) rather than commute from more rural areas. In some areas, schools are merging and/or closing down all-together. (see census.gov for more information)
- Culture. We are busy, busy. Who has time for, well, anything?
The Harvard Gazette is onto the trend as well…
Meanwhile, here at home, I had a meeting this week at my younger daughter’s school regarding the implementation of a 504 plan. In our state and school district, a 504 Plan, is a learning plan designed to help students with disabilities of any kind, be able to perform at equal levels with other students. Since my daughters are both on what qualifies as a pre-diabetic diet, and we have the medical signatures to prove that it is working, they fall under a similar requirement for students that suffer from diabetes (type I or II).
In that meeting, the topic of school lunch came up (how could it not?). The counselor confirmed a suspicion that I had regarding the high carbohydrate content of the meals. So, I must add another culprit to the list of catalysts for problems in the school lunch program:
5. The Free Lunch Program. In many districts, up to 40-50% of students (often more) qualify for Free or Reduced Lunch. The salary requirements to meet in order to qualify is disturbingly low. Many families, especially dual income, fall just above that requirement. Meaning, and the Free Lunch Program advocates probably know this… that MANY more children lack adequate resources for a hot, cooked meal.
I am going to get lots of hate for saying anything regarding access to the Free Lunch Program. So, before I go further, let me state this, for the record: I received free and reduced lunch for my entire time in public school. I even talk about it here and a little bit here too.
The requirements and expectations of school lunch automatically assume that students are not eating a proper diet outside of school. The carbohydrate content of lunch and breakfast (55 grams or more per meal) are meant to help a student maintain energy for the entire day.
I have had this problem stewing in my brain for the last two days and I still can’t seem to find the actual ‘problem’ that we can address without continually pulling out more and more problems.
The ‘obvious’ problem is the TIME ALLOWANCE, but if you bring that up, all the other issues come up like ‘too many students’, ‘loss of funding’, ‘lunchroom too small’, etc. It’s like one of those magician acts where they endlessly keep pulling out handkerchiefs and scarves.
I would love to lobby for more time at lunch for the students, but the argument must be clear before I even begin… otherwise… cue the carnival music.
I will stop there and let you all add your thoughts. As always, comments are welcome. Especially those from other countries, and cultures. I would like to know how your schools handle lunchtime.
 Reference: Cohen, J. F., Jahn, J. L., Richardson, S., Cluggish, S. A., Parker, E., & Rimm, E. B. (2016). Amount of Time to Eat Lunch Is Associated with Children’s Selection and Consumption of School Meal Entrée, Fruits, Vegetables, and Milk. Journal Of The Academy Of Nutrition & Dietetics, 116(1), 123-128. doi:10.1016/j.jand.2015.07.019
 Check with your state.gov website and your local school district website for options. If nothing is listed, contact your child’s school counselor or family resource center advocate for help.
 Diabetic diets are usually maxed at around 55 grams per day, a ‘point’ is 15 grams, and you are allowed 3-4 points per day, depending on the diet program. For some crazy reason the National Diabetes Association doesn’t list exact amounts, and says that it ‘depends on your needs’.