The cheapest possible

One day last week I wore a pair of pants to work that I bought for $5 (online and on sale). I love to get a bargain when I shop for clothes. I know full well that I’ll probably get a year out of them and that’ll be it.

It has taken me most of my life to realize that there are things that you buy on sale and things that you spend more on. Over the past year I took stock of my shoes and realized that I had bought too many “for the right price” and too few for their quality. When I analyzed how many pairs I actually wore and why, I figured out that my favorite pairs are high quality shoes I spent a lot of money on. So I threw out all the pairs that don’t fit right or my foot jiggles in or the ones that rub my ankle raw if I don’t wear them with socks (inevitably I forget that fact and wear them to work without socks). I spend the whole day on my feet so quality shoes are a priority. Then I bought myself a couple new pairs that cost me a lot, but I realize the high cost up front pays off: my back and feet don’t hurt!

My husband and I are the rare duo that both enjoy food shopping and we buy quality food. We are lucky to be able to splurge on little indulgences and bigger ones sometimes too. For our family, organic options matter. I enjoy cooking (my husband doesn’t know how to cook, but he can boil water) and shopping is the natural extension of that experience. We’re passing on a love of food to our kid and we make sure to buy the best that we can afford.

Why can’t we give all children the best possible food we can find while they are at school? Why do they have to get the cheapest stuff? If their health and wellness is truly a priority, then we need to pony up and find a way to feed them as if they matter. Children are not “little adults.” They are learning and growing every day (I’m only growing out not up). There are some things you spend extra money on and that would be this nation’s kids.

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74 Responses to The cheapest possible

  1. MaryAn Batchellor March 15, 2010 at 4:18 pm #

    The money doesn't all come out of the same pot. There's state, federal, county, local, and school district funds — all sourced differently. For example, here in Texas, schools are funded by school district taxes so they get x amount of money from property taxes based on assessed values and what state funding there is and that's all. I'm not saying cutting corners is good but people need to realize that it's not a simple issue. There are other things (from a fiscal perspective) equally as important as lunch. And, if most of your kids are on free or reduced lunches, where does that money come from when the economy is affecting assessed values, when there are few new home sales, and when people are just too broke to pay their taxes so collections are at 20% instead of 90? The money has to come from somewhere. New and/or improved programs come at the expense of new books, improved safety, maintenance of equipment, teacher's pay raises and even the number of cafeteria ladies you've got to prepare the lunches. Yes, something can be done to make lunches more nutritional but it's just not as simple as we'd all like it to be.

  2. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 4:20 pm #

    Thank You Mrs. Q for uncovering the truth of the school lunch. The charter school my daughter attends was in the process of introducing School Lunch Revolution (Whole Foods Market) when the school district forced the school to provide their school lunch program which they insisted is nutritious. It's attractively packaged junk food, which contains HFCS and trans fats. Very disappointing. Needless to say I provide my child with a nutritious lunch from home. May the attention you bring to this important issue provide the change the children of America deserve. Kuddos to you for your brave stand against the status quo.

  3. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 4:26 pm #

    You can lead a horse to water….

    I raised five children over a span of 30 years and watched school lunches change over that period. I ate at the school with my kids quite a bit. What I saw was that the school responded to what the kids (and parents) wanted and what the kids would eat. I agree the quality of many of the choices is abysmall but most kids won't eat a 'healthy' meal, especially once they get to middle or high school. I observed that fresh fruit and milk (in 2-3 flavors) were served at every meal. They were thrown away in most cases. It used to sicken me to see all that thrown away but in the last 5 years the cafeteria did at least start retrieving the milk from the lunch trays before the kids dumped them Still what about that fruit? Once is had been touched it could not be retrieved. I noticed in Mrs. Q's pictures there is fruit and usually a vegetable in the picture. Do the kids eat them? I doubt it. I imagine there is also milk available. If every child ate the fruit and drank the milk they would be getting a better meal than many of the worlds children.
    In a society where fast food, macarooni and cheese or chicken nuggets for taste then followed by Pediasure or the like is the common replacement for protein, fruit and vegetables in young children's diets how do you expect a school cafeteria to provide a healthy lunch that will get eaten? In most cases the food I was served was not that bad. The best? Not by a long shot. Normally fried foods such as chicken nuggets and french fried were the baked variety but that is a good thing. Vegetable were canned but the facilities weren't there for storing frozen.

    Then there is, of course, cost. Not just the cost of the food but the cost of preparation and serving as well as the presentation. I live in a metro area where schools are large. 700-1000 kids in elementary schools and 2000-4000 kids in high school. It is just not possible to cook fresh meats and vegetables for that many students to be served in an hour and a half. If you could, who is going to do it? The kitchen staff is minimal and mostly minimum wage workers with little education or experience. There is no way they could prepare and cook fresh everyday. Then every dish must be able to be eaten with a plastic spoon or fork or your fingers. No metal utinsels and not even plastic knives are allowed anymore. Can you cut up a piece of baked chicken or lean beef or pork with a plastic fork? How about trying to fork up a piece of crisp steamed brocolli or carrot? Much has been said about the number of kids on federally funded lunches. How much does the federal government provide? I'm not sure but I think it is about $.80-$1.50 per meal in my state depending on the age/meal. Each school district accepts bids from wholesale food distrubutors who must meet the federally mandated minimum requirements. The school is required to accept the lowest bid, regardless of quality. This is done months before the schools year starts so how can locally grown products be factored in?

    So all in all, it would be great if we could raise the standard for school cafeteria meals but is is impratical in many ways.

    The bottom line is that the children are offered a meal that meets federally mandated nutritional requirements that includes protein, fruit, vegetables and milk. It may not be the best available but it provides what they need if they eat it and is certainly better than nothing which may be the alternative.

    Until our society chooses to pay teachers like celebrities and sports stars, invest as much in our kids schools and education as they do their vehicles and vacations things can't change.

  4. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    Take a look at this great school program, EEE: Eat, Exercise, Excel! http://www.eatexerciseexcel.org/EEEMenus/EEE_Home.htm

    It has turned a failing school around, and now other schools are adopting it. Good luck! I admire your willingness to take this on, and get lots of vitamins to counteract negative affects of cafeteria foods! Stay well.

  5. tmurish March 15, 2010 at 4:36 pm #

    I am so glad someone thought of doing this! The girls in my GS troop requested working on a food power badge which included writing to the principal about lunch. Most of the girls dislike what the school offers. Surprisingly, the biggest complaint was the lack of fresh fruit and veggies. The emphasis on fresh as opposed to canned. The principal forwarded our letters on to the district office of the person in charge of lunches who came to our meeting to listen to suggestions. What we learned was school lunches are highly regulated and restricted, using county health department rules and federal mandates as excuses not to change seemed to be the answer to their questions. If you want a good lunch it seems you have to bring it from home. Our concern is with the children who are unable to bring a healthy lunch packed at home. Some parents are not equipped to provide this whether it be lack of money, time/energy to shop and prepare whole food or knowledge about basic nutrition. The school should be able to fill this gap. Based on sheer volume, one would think that the school districts would have more leverage to demand better quality from suppliers. Suppliers need to get more inventive with their offerings. If they insist on serving carnival food, maybe they could coat a corn dog in a whole grain with carrot puree instead of "cornmeal mush". It would look the same and most kids would not even notice the change. How about a whole wheat bun and pickle spear with hot dogs? It's not that hard, this country can do better!! For those nay sayers, I think it would be great if this blog created nation attention resulting in change, you go girl!!

  6. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 4:44 pm #

    Are you working with the administration to get these lunches changed?

  7. mcdownes01 March 15, 2010 at 4:46 pm #

    Hooray for you and I hope your digestive system can recover from your experiment. I have been apalled at my children's lunch menu. Not only the lack of fresh food but the abundance of styrofoam packaging and disposable utensils. Seriously, is it really that much less expensive to buy prepackaged, precut baby carrots instead of a whole bunch, wash them and cut them? Our school systems should be embarassed and our government should be putting more money towards school lunches. Perhaps a look at the movie "Super Size Me" will motivate those who make these decisions. There is a lot of correlation between processed food and behavior and brain development. Thanks for championing this effort!

  8. Bridgette Brick-Wells March 15, 2010 at 4:50 pm #

    I am thrilled that you have taken up this blog and that it is gaining so much exposure. But….I am not surprised. Thankfully, this issue is gaining the support and attention it demands if we are to save our children from a shortened life of poor health.

    After doing a year of research, and speaking with Ann Cooper, I, too, took on this challenge and in 2008 started the Healthy Lunch & Lifestyle Project, Inc. a non-profit public benefit corporation.

    In 2009, I became a Food Service Director (as a volunteer) for a school that did not previously have its own NSLP account. I use this account to provide meals to all the students we serve…which is expanding to 4 more schools in 2010-2011.

    The system IS broken, but it is broken at the school district level….we are showing, every day, that it is possible to work within the NSLP program and to provide wholesome, fresh meals. More than 50% of our students qualify for free or reduced price meals. We provide full-pay meals at $2.50 and adult meals at $3.00. Lots of our teachers and staff eat our meals every day and we are proud that they help us set such a positive example for their students.

    We currently serve nearly 700 children and provide meals produced from scratch each day which are made from whole fruits, whole vegetables, whole grains, whole meats and cheeses. We work with local producers to be able to offer seasonal, organic fresh produce. We teach nutrition education, cooking, and gardening.

    We do not use any products which contain high fructose corn syrup and all of our breads and pastas are 100% whole wheat.

    To learn more about us, our mission, vision and programs visit us at http://www.helpshasta.com.

  9. jimoaklanduniv March 15, 2010 at 4:58 pm #

    AGAIN!! look to government, the villan MANDATING and taking control away from the citizens even to what schools serve!! IF the choice was up to the school and students and parents, instead of the all encroaching government, our kids wouldn';t have to eat the MANDATED CRAP they are served!! IF this Kenyan Socialist and his LIB DEM Cronies are not IMPEACHED and RECALLED, we can expect much more deterioration! We need to DO IT NOW! Find out where your Tea Parties are by doing a search and Be There!

  10. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 5:10 pm #

    My question is why is all the food pre- packaged? I have two children in school. One is 15 and one is 7. I check out the school lunch meal everyday. Are food is made fresh and not pre packaged. We serve fresh fruit daily. We do smoothies in in the am and eggs and toast, etc. The lunches are just as good. The food in those pictures are nasty. Maybe some taste okay, but you eat with your eyes first. My children would refuse to eat and call me to bring lunch. That school should be ashamed with itself. I do not understand the idea of ht efruit cups?? Apples, oranges.. Why, so much pizza?

  11. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 5:29 pm #

    I just found your blog and had to make a comment. I am also a school teacher (California) in a low socioecomic community. I had to stop eating school lunches, because every time I do, I start to gain weight. Just by stopping from eating school lunches I have been able to lose weight.

  12. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 5:36 pm #

    I agree with you… unfortunately it's about $$$. Schools cut cost causing unhealthy kids and so we'll all pay the price later with higher health care costs!

    I was assigned to "guard" the vending machines at my school one year. I observed the items kids were buying. This is a high minority school which statistics show are at higher risk for diabetes and heath disease. I started to get to know the regulars buying ALL sugar candy items by 4 or 5 packages. I would caution them and they would just smile.
    After a serious discussion with the head principal about my concern with the same kids buying multiple bags of candy daily… she said that was where our "teacher fund" came from… the one that gives us faculty shirts, pens, bags, etc. I could not believe she didn't give a hoot about student's health. I threw my hands up and left in frustration.

    Also, recently I was at a school during lunch. A student complained about the meal. I said get one of the "fresh" chicken salad sandwiches with lettuce and tomato. She said… We are not allowed to buy those… they are for adults. So, why do the adults get fresh made food and the kids do not.

    Ticked in Texas!@!!

  13. gpdavenport March 15, 2010 at 5:37 pm #

    I have a friend who says her father always said in favor of healthy eating, "You can pay your grocer today or pay your doctor tomorrow." Our country shouldn't underestimate the long term value of paying for nutritious school lunches, but we do every day. The people who select these vendors and terrible menus have no concept that these children live in food deserts. The people who make the school lunch decisions probably live in better areas and take their Trader Joe's and healthy/organic carryout/restaurants choices for granted. It's a real shame. The rant about President Obama is uncalled for–this has been going on for decades and during many Republican administrations as well.

  14. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 5:40 pm #

    To all the crybaby's, and their little spawn.

    Pack your kids food everyday. And stfu.:)

  15. NinaCo9 March 15, 2010 at 5:43 pm #

    I just ran across your project on AOL news and think it is great but I'm also soooo upset that in this day and age (with freedom of speech)those in education really can not voice their opinions with out backlash. It is WRONG and extremely unbelievible!!! I have 23 yrs in educ. and once I crossed the "line" into admin. to make a difference and speak up, I only lasted 5 yrs. Due of course, to politics and this same BS. Please continue to post your progress and if anything happens, if and when "they" find out.

  16. Sil March 15, 2010 at 5:46 pm #

    So I found this blog at AOL news and I love it . I have to say that I always found school lunches in this country to be a bit ewww for me lol ( yes I am foreign) since I grew up eating food made from scratch 100 % of the time and my kids do as well , well maybe like 80% for them lol.
    I have been brave enough to venture to the school to eat with my kids on parent week or whatever it's called, and I was just appaled, first, at the amount of food they serve ( this was in elementary school and a pretty good one since it was a small town)I mean the amount of food served would never fill a husky 6th grader, especially when they eat around 11:00 AM and go home at 3:30PM. And the other thing was well, the amount of junk they serve.
    Looking at your pictures of lunches I guess we have been blessed to at least not get everything prepackaged where I live, but it still beats the hell out of me why they serve such nasty versions of healthy foods "quote the mystery greens here" lol. I love veggies and I don't think I could stomach those down.
    Having been to the lunch rooms at my kids schools I also see how much food is thrown out. Like you described no kid will eat those mystery greens or those pudding looking beans you guys get. I mean if we know they kids wont eat plain boiled broccoli, why serve in a cup where it is soggy and weird looking instead of mixing it say in mac and cheese and give them a bigger helping? I am sure most kids will eat it if it was mixed with other "yummy" things.
    Also how hard would it be to hire people to come "cook" for the school, I know this can take time but if people come in a midnight it's doable, the the servers can just dish out the "cooked" meal as usual.
    I am with you that something needs to be done,my kids are called picky at school and not because they don't like the food, but because it is so poorly prepared and add the weird looking factor here , they wont eat it.
    We make the effort to feed our kids good food and freshly prepared and then the school ( or whomever is behind it) comes and ruins it for them.
    I am sorry you have endured such miscomfort to try and prove this. And I hope you are ok after you are done.
    We need more people like you.

  17. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 6:00 pm #

    Thank you soooo much for tackling and bringing light to this issue. My son in 7th grade started gaining weight like crazy. I thought maybe he was just growing out and soon would be growing up, until I pulled his lunch account and saw that he was eating ice cream, cookies, pizza and fries for lunch on most days. He was uncomfortable about his weight, I was concerned as well and we both agreed he would take a sack lunch to school with healthy food. I wrote the company that provides the school lunches and asked them how ice cream, pizza and cookies fit into any nutritional guideline. I received a letter back saying that the nutritional guidelines are there and offered, but they can also offer extras, i.e., let's make an extra buck off the backs, stomachs, hips and thighs of the school kids. The only kids that were held to a strict lunch program and had restricted choices were students that were on reduced or free lunch program. They are now allowed to eat the junk. Candy, cookies, ice cream, pizza every day have absolutely no place in our school's lunch system. If a parent feels that they're kid can't make a day without a Snickers, then send it with them to school in their pocket. Schools need to get back to fruits, vegetables and a recognizable meat for lunches, not processed crap slapped on a plate.

  18. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

    I live in a different area than you do, and I admit that our school district is more fortunate when it comes to money but the menus look similar, especially when it comes to seeing that square shaped pizza!
    For the most part, I always liked school lunches. We all know they don't serve the best quality meat and what not but ya know, it wasn't bad. I admire what you are doing, and this might be hard to do, but might I suggest you get some opinions from the students who are eating this food? It might not be the organic, home cooked food you are used to — maybe that's why you find it so repulsive.
    Like I said, I'm sure many children all across this country eat similar foods to the ones being served at your school and even though it might not be top quality, millions of kids eat the food and are just fine. Like I said, I admire what you are doing, just throwing another opinion into the mix.

  19. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    Am I wrong? There has never been any seafood so far… Whats up with that?!?

  20. Cara March 15, 2010 at 7:16 pm #

    This link shows how a quality lunch can change childrens behaviors. I understand it all comes down to the dollar, but lower drop-out rates, lower suicides and higher attendance = more money for the schools. The schools are not looking at the whole picture when they decide the budget for school lunches. It would cost lower than they think in the long run. This article will shock most.

    http://www.feingold.org/PF/wisconsin1.html

  21. ahtalk March 15, 2010 at 8:45 pm #

    I understand about the lunch situation. I am a 4th grade teacher.
    However, let's not forget that parents have the responsibility to feed their children. My mom made my breakfast and lunch the entire time I went to school. In 2010, it is now assumed that it is the school/govt job to feed the children. No, no, no.
    Remember the days when, if you decided to have a child, you knew you would have to feed and clothe the child??

  22. Tammy March 15, 2010 at 9:41 pm #

    The fact that "money" is sited as the reason for the crummy quality is absolute nonsense. My husband is a chef in assisted living allowed a $4.20 per person, per day budget to feed the residents. Lest you think they are eating garbage, they have full breakfasts (eggs to order, cereal, fruit, pastry), full lunches, including soup, salad, three entree choices AND dessert, dinner as the same, and an all day snack/coffee/juice/fruit bar. They have fresh fish, fresh meat, fresh veggies etc. THAT is the secret – the food isn't mass-processed, chemically enhanced CRAP. Any restaurant etc. that is actually making a profit is cooking from scratch. Sadly, no one – from the businesses that run the cafeterias to the parents – wants to do that.

  23. Anonymous March 15, 2010 at 9:59 pm #

    I totally 100% agree with you. My family and I have thought this way for as long as I can remember. We only eat organic food.
    I use to go to public school. I never bought lunch, only a few times I bought salad or a bagel or a tuna sandwich. The lunches were horrible. I'm possitive everything was fake. A week after they served chicken fingers, they served left overs. EEEEWWWW!!!
    Now I go to a private school called the Waldorf. The Waldorf is located all around the world. Instead of never buying lunch, I hardly ever bring lunch. My school lunches are the best and they are totally organic. We even have a garden where we grow most of our food. They serve salad with every meal. We never have the same lunches two weeks in a row, not even three weeks in a row. We only have pizza about once a month.
    A message to Mrs. Q: You might want to check out a Waldorf Website and see if there is a school near you.
    I loveyour experiment by the way but I hope you don't get sick. Good Luck!!!

  24. BonzoGal March 15, 2010 at 11:04 pm #

    To those who keep saying that since they don't have kids, they shouldn't have to pay the taxes for schools: If you want to live in a society in which only the wealthy have educated children, then perhaps you should move to another country. I want to live in a society with well-educated people who are qualified for good jobs. Someday these kids might be my MD, my lawyer, or my President. I don't have kids, but I want everyone elses' kids to have a great education!

    Or should I resent paying for Social Security out of MY paycheck, knowing that it probably will not be there by the time I need it? Commenters like "Anonymous" will get my benefits long before I do.

    And yes, the parents should ideally be the ones to feed their kids well… but if you have some parents who can't or don't, do you want to punish the hungry kids? It's not THEIR fault that their parents can't or don't feed them. I hope you feel righteous up there on your pedastal, telling kids that they can just lump it because you don't like how their parents are raising them. "Shoulds" don't make empty stomachs feel any better.

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