Dialogue

I’d just like to say that I’ve really enjoyed reading the comments. Thank you. I love reading your personal stories about school lunches. I also see a lot of opinions about the photos and about food options in your children’s schools. And every commenter who tells me to keep going is also appreciated. The best part of the comments is that we are opening a dialogue about school lunches in our country.

***

And I’ve done another email interview. This time with mother nature network :

An interview with school lunch blogger Mrs. Q

Thanks Robin!

***

I think when we look at under-performing schools and we want to change those numbers, we need to question everything. Teachers’ skills, abilities, and training are often addressed in the media as a big part of the picture. You know, I attend quality professional development activities through my district every 1-2 months depending on the schedule. That’s pretty darn good if you ask me. I always learn something new.

But nowhere have I ever seen anyone think about what we offer children for lunch. Let’s think about what we give students to ingest. For instance, I personally enjoy eating hot dogs maybe every 4-6 months, mostly in the summer cooked on a grill. Also I eat them when I go to the ballpark as a special treat. But I wonder if we should give a child a hot dog lunch and then ask them to take the ISAT (state test)…

***

In 2004 Jamie Oliver launched an effort to improve school lunches in the UK. He started a program called School Dinners and he wrote a manifesto about what he wanted to see happen in the school lunch movement (I love the word “manifesto”). Not all schools accepted his new program, but many did.

In 2006-7, the Institute for Social and Economic Research (ISER) at Essex University comes along and decides to study 11-year-old kids who ate the new diet of fresh food for at least 12 months. Results:

An independent study shows the performance of 11-year-old pupils eating Oliver’s meals improved by up to 8% in science and as much as 6% in English, while absenteeism due to ill-health fell by 15%.

The researchers controlled for other variables and compared the results to the schools where the kids did not have access to the fresh food.

WOW. That’s all I can say.

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23 Responses to Dialogue

  1. Karin January 22, 2010 at 5:04 am #

    Hello there … I just stumbled across your blog today and am absolutely AGOG at the bizarre foods served at your school. I live in Australia, and I'm not sure whether I'm just out of touch with the types of processed foods out there (I am a cook-from-scratch kind of gal) or that we simply don't have these weird "foodstuffs" here. I rather hope it is the latter! I'm also alarmed at the packaging, which is obviously both depleting world resources and ending up in landfill. We are sending really alarming messages to the next generation here. You're telling a fascinating story … keep up the good work.

  2. Anonymous January 22, 2010 at 5:11 am #

    Just came across your blog today and want to send you a huge THANK YOU! I agree that it is really sad what the kids are being fed. It is also disheartening that the kids at my school have a main entree which is not usually entirely healthy but often have fruit, veggies, or other healthy options- yet, they all pick up the main dish and then skip the fruit or veggies. Some of them literally only eat the pizza-or whatever and milk. This tells me that they are being served this kind of "food" at home as well. At my school they also sell ice cream, soft pretzels, and other nutritionally devoid junk food to "make money"?!? My favorite is when the kid on free lunch who doesn't have to pay a dime for "lunch" can buy ice cream for 50 cents every time it is available… figure that one out! Sorry for the rant- good luck this year and keep it up!

  3. Jessica January 22, 2010 at 7:05 am #

    I just found a link to your blog today, and I will definitely be a follower. I'm a University student in Dietetics, and I hope to become a community dietitian in schools and re-evaluate cafeteria food. Your blog has been, in a funny way, inspiration. Thank you.

  4. Sarah January 22, 2010 at 3:02 pm #

    Thank you for keeping this blog. I look forward to your pictures and commentary. I'm a teacher too and was always appalled at what kids in public schools get for lunch.

  5. Japes January 22, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    I came across your blog from Grist. Wow! I can't believe they serve this to children.. and all that packaging, what a mountain of waste.

  6. Anonymous January 22, 2010 at 3:59 pm #

    There are a lot of comments about packaging- does your school have a complete kitchen where they can cook from scratch?
    Also, have you looked at any nutritional information? Curious about the comments that say food is loaded with fat, sugar and sodium, yet you often state the food is bland (perhaps because it is low in fat, sugar and sodium?).
    Lastly, you should investigate federal meal program requirements and you will see that school lunch is highly regulated and audited. Programs are required to follow regulations in order to receive funding. The challenge school districts face in meeting regulations with the small amount of funding is beyond what the normal "foodie" would be able to accomplish.

  7. Anonymous January 22, 2010 at 4:02 pm #

    I came across your blog from my local newspaper. Frankly, I hope you don't make yourself sick trying to keep up with the school lunches. Our local elementary school district has a multi-million dollar kitchen where they could cook the best of meals yet they send out junk warmed in a microwave most of the time. On a recent, monthly school menu, I counted seven times (three at breakfast and four at lunch) where they were serving "uncrustables." From what my kids say, these uncrustables are served frozen most of the time. UGH! Our kids deserve much better.

    – Gail in central California where the schools are alloted even MORE money because it is a low-income area.

  8. Toni January 22, 2010 at 4:17 pm #

    Came upon this blog through my sister sharing it with me… Being both a parent of three children in elementary school *and* a student seeking teacher licensure, I've seen and heard of a lot of interesting things about our own school's lunch (and breakfast) offerings. Pizza is an option every day, and my middle child has gotten to the point where he'll go through the menu every week to figure out which days he wants to pack (knowing that he simply won't eat lunch otherwise). We *are* lucky in that the kids get a choice of two entrees every day, and there's always fruit and veggies available, but I have yet to find out what a "chicken biscuit" is and why they're having it for breakfast. I love what you're doing here, and I think it is absolutely important for more people to become aware of what is being served up in school cafeterias. Keep going!

  9. Marcia January 22, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    Holy cow, that's an amazing result from changing the kids' diet. Really makes you think. I'd say our local school's diet is better than most, but probably not better than what I pack for my preschooler.

    They do serve oatmeal, salad, soup, and other healthy items sometimes. But they also serve Trix yogurt (food coloring, HFCS) because it is donated.

    My son eats the school lunch on Friday (pizza), but he skips the salad. Which is frustrating.

  10. Linda January 22, 2010 at 6:04 pm #

    Wow is right. The manifesto is pretty simple -and it increased test scores and reduced illness? I would add one more – take a hint from our First Lady and plant a garden – teach kids about where food really comes from (not inside a plastic sheet) – and maybe try a sweet potato or a fresh tomato once in awhile.

  11. amanda millner-fairbanks January 22, 2010 at 6:10 pm #

    Hi. I'd love to interview you. Please get in touch with me when you can. Thanks! Amanda@goodinc.com.

  12. Anonymous January 22, 2010 at 7:35 pm #

    I think that eating school lunch made me a better person. Odd I know, and it in no way made me a healthier person, and I'm sure it has a lot to do with my parents choices at home as well, but I find myself surrounded by continually pickier people.

    The nutrition and waste that comes along with the standard public school lunch is reprehensible without a doubt, however I think there is something to be said that the people I know raised on a lunch diet from the USA PS system, tend to be the people I find myself gravitating towards. It's sad that the I think the lunches built charachter, but it might be true.

    -Andrew

  13. Anonymous January 22, 2010 at 8:32 pm #

    ? huh ?

  14. Monica January 22, 2010 at 9:49 pm #

    I came across your blog when it was linked on Reddit last week. I'll be interested to see how this works out for you as the year progresses.

    Those numbers are pretty remarkable from that British study. I wonder why we don't take more heed here in America….we know that some of the most under-performing schools are those with high rates of poverty. How do we measure poverty in schools? The percent of kids getting free/reduced lunch.

    I almost never bought lunch as a kid, other than milk (and even that we stopped buying in middle school, where the milk was often expired and nearly always frozen from being stored in the ice cream case) and I've always felt bad for kids who do. In grade school, I had a science teacher who had a skeleton in his classroom. When asked whether it was real and where it came from, his only response was always that it was the skeleton of the former science teacher, who ate too many school lunches! (Of course, this teacher got the lunch every day, so the long-standing joke was that it was his skeleton and he was a ghost :P)

  15. Jim January 23, 2010 at 12:04 am #

    i found your blog through Tyler Florence's tweets… I've subscribed to your RSS feed and love your blog. My wife is a teacher and we have a new daughter, and I am appalled what the schools are trying to pass on as foodstuffs to our children. We worry about teachers, tests, and homework, but why not nutrition?

  16. amhogarth January 23, 2010 at 7:12 pm #

    Hi! It's wonderful that you're doing this blog, if I haven't said so already. I grew up in the UK (went to secondary school between 1997 – 2004) and the school dinners didn't seem too bad – there was a lot of burger and chips and not a lot of salad, but fresh fruit was always available. What strikes me from all your photos is there's so much packaging! Does it save money on having to employ lunch staff?

  17. Anonymous January 24, 2010 at 1:01 pm #

    I watched the Jamie Oliver Project back when he was trying to work with a group of "lunch ladies" and found his dedication and the entire project to be amazing. We need something like this for our country. I have mentioned this countless of times to our school nurses, but it just seems to me that unless parents get behind the movement, there will be little change. I don't think parents really have a clue what is being served and what their kids are eating. How do we as teachers get our parents motivated to change without comprising our jobs? You are doing some great work! Thank you!

  18. Debbie Hillman January 24, 2010 at 4:16 pm #

    Mrs. Q: You are doing a great service for all the people — teachers, nurses, parents, children, etc., etc. — who are trying to bring attention to school lunches and to the larger food policies which got us to this point in time.

    As one of the lead organizers behind the recently passed Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act, I would like very much to let you know some of the positive initiatives going on in Illinois around school foods:

    1. The Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act of 2009 (www.foodfarmsjobs.org) sets as a GOAL (not a mandate) that Illinois state-funded institutions (including schools) are sourcing 10% of their food from Illinois farmers and Illinois businesses by 2020. The new Illinois Local, Food, Farms, and Jobs Council (to be publicly announced by the Governor in February) is mandated to help the schools reach that goal (or improve on that goal).

    2. There is a statewide Farm-to-School organization forming in Illinois. It is a very broad-based group, with involvement by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education, as well as the National Farm to School program and non-profits around the state. Farm to School programs include not only getting farm fresh produce from traditional rural farms into rural suburban, and urban schools. The Farm to School program recognizes that schools can have farms and gardens on their campuses and begin feeding the children from their own land. Bureau Valley School District (in Bureau County, Illinois) implemented this model last year; the 3/4 acre garden actually SELLS the produce to the school cafeteria as a fund-raiser for "booster" type projects.

    3. Illinois also passed the Farm Fresh School Program last year, which proposes at least 6 pilot projects (3 rural, 3 urban) to get "farm fresh" produce into Illinois schools. This bill was unfunded, so the new Farm to School network is looking to (1) create the RFP for a fundable project, and (2) find funds for those 6 projects.

    4. Northwestern University's School of Education and Social Policy has 28 Master's candidates looking at the "school food procurement" goal in the Illinois Food, Farms, and Jobs Act. Four teams will be implementing specific projects to move us closer to that 10% by 2020 goal. One of the projects is doing a statewide survey for the Illinois Farm to School network. The program is "Learning and Organizational Change" (MSLOC).

    5. Slow Food USA has begun a "Time for Lunch" campaign, which seeks to address the Child Nutrition Act (the federal policy that sets the guidelines for the school lunches and other feeding programs). That Act is up for re-authorization this year. Although I have not read your entire blog and comments, I'm sure someone has brought this up. I simply suggest that Slow Food USA, Slow Food Chicago, Slow Food Springfield might be a good place for peolpe to get engaged on these issues.

    Thanks for your work. If you would like to be connected up to some of these Illinois efforts, I would be happy to facilitate that connection.

    — Debbie

    Debbie Hillman, Co-coordinator
    Illinois Local & Organic Food & Farm Task Force
    Co-chair, Evanston Food Policy Council
    DLHillman@sbcglobal.net

  19. Mrs. Q January 25, 2010 at 2:30 am #

    To Debbie Hillman — Thank you for sharing that information about those great initiatives! I especially like the idea of having IL farmers support IL schools. It just makes sense. I'll hang on to your information!

    Thanks to everyone that commented! 🙂

  20. Marianne (frenchfriestoflaxseeds) January 26, 2010 at 8:06 am #

    It's great to see you bring up the Jamie Oliver series on school lunches in England, as I think it was rally eye opening over there. I hope someday we see that change in all countries.

    I also find the whole school lunch thing fascinating – I am from a suburb of a major city in Canada, and there was no such thing as school lunch when I went to school, other than the odd hot dog day every month or so. We all brought our lunch to school everyday, and there was no option to buy anything at school in elementary school. Junior high, there was a cafeteria, and yes, they sold crap, but most people brought their lunch (I know I did – my parents weren't going to pay for that junk). Same deal in high school, although I think we had more healthy options – if I bought my lunch, it was from the fresh, made to order sandwich station. I know this is very different from many school systems both in Canada and the US.

    Keep up the good work – it's so interesting!

  21. Emma January 26, 2010 at 8:57 am #

    Just found this blog – originally from a post by Stephen Downes.
    Like some of the other commenters, I live in the UK & had British School dinners myself – and also watched the Jamie Oliver programme.

    However, there's also been a report recently ( bother, not letting me cut & paste … search the bbc for "Packed lunch" – on the 12th Jan) – which said that 99/100 kids don't have a healthy packed lunch! Not quite sure what they mean – does an almost healthy lunch – but a small fun size mars bar for a treat count as "unhealthy"?

  22. Anonymous January 26, 2010 at 3:08 pm #

    Things you need to find out.
    Have you ever read the guidelnes for nutrition from the National School Lunch Program?
    Have you read the nutrition page available for your monthly school menu?
    Have you ever reported to anyone in authority that the fruit seems to always be frozen?
    What percentage of your schools students participate in the school lunch program?
    Do you promote healthy eating in your classroom and if so please post? Kids learn by example.
    Is it enough to just report your findings?
    I think it's time for action – try to make your lunch program the best it can be.

  23. Emily November 9, 2011 at 8:42 pm #

    Hey there… just wanted to let you know that it is now November 2011 and I’m stumbling upon your website for the first time 🙂 Looking forward to using your information for an arguementative paper, but enjoying the story at the same time! Keep up the good work!

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