"Here!"

My school attendance was pretty good when I was a kid. I remember hearing my name read by the teacher in the morning and raising my hand. I always knew the name that came before mine alphabetically and I would listen for it. I loved school, but I was quite shy.

Every couple years my family moved cross-country because my parents couldn’t decide where to live. As a result I had to navigate new schools and make a whole new set of friends. Going to school wasn’t too hard for me because I found learning fun in spite of having difficulty socially as a perpetual new student. I was lucky because my parents valued education and praised me for my good grades. My mom said, “you are going to college: you will love it,” while my dad said, “you can be the garbage man as long as you are happy.”

The experience of school lunch for a new kid is basically hell and it’s not about the food. Every day there was the stomach churning search for a friendly face. I dreaded lunch for the first couple weeks, but then I would establish a tentative friend group and it would get better. But at least I didn’t have to go to school for my best meal of the day. My parents were able to provide me with a bagged lunch when I wanted one and then would give me lunch money if I wanted to purchase hot lunch.

The reason I bring up attendance is that when Jamie Oliver changed school lunches in the UK, absences went down (among other good things). That makes sense when you think the students are healthier and are sick less frequently. But what if you conceptualize food as a reward? Knowing I could go to school and get a high quality meal might be enough to get me up and dressed if I was a kid who needed that kind of motivation.

Furthermore, did you know that schools get monies based on Average Daily Attendance (ADA)? One way to help your school obtain more funding is to boost attendance. Could more money be a side benefit of better school lunches? How funny would it be if during roll call students said “Here! I’m here for the food!”

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15 Responses to "Here!"

  1. Lisa April 9, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

    Great point and thanks for bringing it up. I hadn't thought about that but it makes total sense.

  2. swiggett April 9, 2010 at 2:09 pm #

    That's wonderful! I'm enjoying Jamie Oliver's show, and am excited for tonight's episode. I wonder if seeing these results would change minds.

  3. Lisa R. Suriano April 9, 2010 at 3:05 pm #

    Brilliant point, Mrs. Q! Another logical reason to support the change we seek 🙂

  4. MayLove April 9, 2010 at 3:18 pm #

    "I'm here for the food" made me laugh – its the name of a couple of Alton Brown cookbooks! I love him! Great insight here! I really want to catch that Jamie Oliver show, he's adorable, and you both are doing a great thing!

  5. A. B. England April 9, 2010 at 3:31 pm #

    It certainly does make sense! The number and duration of colds in our household certainly went down when we started eating more healthfully and adding herbs and spices to our recipes. That's not even taking the incidents of infections, allergies, and aches and pains into account. Those went down by a large margin too.

    Plus, looking forward to an edible, hot lunch does make dragging yourself out of bed in the morning much more appealing than only having "the same industrial slop" to look forward too as one of the characters of ABC's "Recess" put it.

  6. Liam's Mom April 9, 2010 at 4:47 pm #

    A great point about ADA and more money for schools Mrs. Q. But what about the states like mine (CA) that have cut ADA and threaten to cut it more this year. We're expecting $202 loss per pupil and there are rumors it could get as bad as $400+ cut. However will we manage the food fight with a significant drop in ADA.

  7. Brandon April 9, 2010 at 6:05 pm #

    How can you make it through the day by just eating the school lunch? The portions appear so small.

  8. Anonymous April 9, 2010 at 7:03 pm #

    Great points. Too bad more teachers and administrators don't consider the potential benefits of a good meal program, provide the support needed and so on.

  9. Caterina B April 9, 2010 at 7:19 pm #

    Wow! I just found your blog. It's just what I need. I work in a school and despair at the lunches, too. There is a change starting now and I hope it will be better soon.
    Your comments about your young life and school experience could have been written by me! I looked forward to the lunch then and it was all cooked in the kitchens by good cooks.

  10. zahirah.com April 9, 2010 at 8:53 pm #

    I loved that fact about attendance going up when the lunches improved. I never would have guessed. Yet another reason to bring decent meals into the schools.

  11. Anonymous April 9, 2010 at 9:34 pm #

    I've been reading your blog for a few weeks and wanted to say thanks for what you're doing. Just today I read a story about a teacher in Colorado who was reprimanded for selling fresh fruit from her classroom and trying to lead food change in her middle school. (http://www.grist.org/article/a-teacher-crusades-for-better-school-food-and-gets-stomped/)

    My oldest son started kindergarten this year, and until I visited him in the cafeteria one day I had no idea how appalling school lunch can be. We opt out by sending lunch from home, but I often see five-year-olds eat a mono-colored, entirely processed lunch without a single fresh fruit or vegetable. Strawberry popsicles count as their "fruit" serving!

    Keep up the good work!

  12. Abagail Link April 10, 2010 at 12:23 am #

    I am a high school student on reduced-cost lunch and I've been very interested in your blog. I eat school lunches because it's cheaper and more convenient, but I can, thankfully, afford to eat a decent dinner at home. However, I know many students do not have this luxury and I know I'd be miserable if the meager lunch we receive at school was the best meal of my day.

    There are always four options for lunch at school. We can choose from a piled-high salad with barely any real lettuce (which run out quickly anyway, as they don't appear to have many to begin with), two varying entrees (usually spaghetti drowning in cheese/grease or sand-dry chicken tenders), or the stand-by greasy pizza. The fruit is usually on the verge of rotten and, if they have fruit cups, they're completely frozen and impossible to eat.

    This is a picture of the pizza. The orange color is completely from grease:
    http://img530.imageshack.us/img530/8155/pizzal.jpg
    They have breakfast, too, but I won't get started on how dreadful that situation is.

    The people who prepare our meals seem to be the masters of excess. Excess grease, excess gravy, excess cheese etc. There's no consideration when it comes to nutrition. Teenagers are, I think, especially expected to prefer the excessively unhealthy to the nutritional.

    Anyway, that's a long rant, but I wanted to let you know that it's not just the teachers and parents who are worried! As a student with no choice in the matter, I am very frustrated over the quality of my school meals and I fully support your project.

  13. lisa b April 10, 2010 at 3:41 pm #

    Great post! I've loved reading your blog and it's encouraged me to do a lot of thinking about how I feed my own family.

    I wondered if you would be able to address something: my son was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes right before school started this year. Although Type 1 is NOT caused by what people eat, nutrition is a very important component in managing it and having a healthy, productive life once it has been diagnosed.

    For the most part, his school has been very helpful. It's no problem for him to check his blood sugar or to eat a snack that he brings when he needs one. The hardest part about school is the school lunch. When kids are diagnosed with Type 1, their whole life changes. Eating in the cafeteria is a small thing they can do to maintain a sense of being like everyone else instead of always being the kid with a problem.

    However, it is RARE for there to be a day when the school lunch meets the guidelines of what my son needs to eat. His nutrition requirements are really just what any of us should be doing: lower fat, lots of fresh fruit and veggies, and a maximum of 90 cards per meal. 90 is actually quite a bit of carbs and yet more often than not, the school cafeteria exceeds that amount.

    I was shocked when I really saw what they were serving. French fries count as vegetables? Really? In what strange universe is that true?

    Since the diet recommended for any child with diabetes (whether Type 1 or Type 2) is just basic healthy eating, why can't schools get in line and serve meals that will actually help everyone? It's not just about preventing obesity, it's about helping all students be healthy, no matter what's going on inside of them.

  14. ingrid April 11, 2010 at 4:18 am #

    Hi, I just started reading your blog. I work as a Teacher's Assistant at a school in the Los Angeles Unified District and one of my duties is to supervise students during the lunch period. Since I only work 3-4 hour shifts I don't legally get a lunch but watching the kids eat always makes me hungry. Of course I always pack nutritious lunches, whatever tastes good cold, usually a take on these things: fruit, raw veggies, PB & J sandwiches, nuts and some water.

    I'm bringing this up because on a daily basis I have to watch the children eat crap. Everything is greasy and the fruit is usually in a cup with that syrup that's used to preserve it, thus rendering it unhealthy. I was talking to some of the volunteers at my school and brought up Jamie Oliver's show and how I pack fruits and other snacks. Even as an adult I notice that food affects my moods. I became a vegetarian almost two years ago and realize that my stress levels are nowhere near the kinds of stress I felt when I ate meat. Of course, when I decided to go veggie I also decided to cut soft drinks, artificial juices, processed foods and other sorts of junk from my diet.

    I KNOW that healthy eating habits have something to do with my calmer mood and definitely agree with Jamie Oliver and his program, I'm sure that a healthier diet would play a huge role in students' concentration levels, energy levels and attitudes.

    One more comment, many of the children in the school I work at are eligible for free/reduced lunches and I think it's a shame that the USDA thinks it's ok to give poor children the worst food they possibly can. And they say children are the future….

  15. Kate April 11, 2010 at 8:20 am #

    Good morning Mrs Q.

    I live in Australia where school lunchs don't exsist. we have canteens and tuck shops. The one at my school was called "the lunch box".

    I am a youth worker. Running programs for 12-18 year olds the idea of bribery to increase attendance is nothing new. Movie tickets and train tickets if the agency can afford them or has contacts to recieve those things at a discount or for free.

    I have gone to great lengths to buy and offer food which is both balanced and what the young people want. I have had a young person not come because I have bought grapes instead of strawberries the week before etc. Or the meal was not culturally sensitive such as no vegitarian option or halal meat for muslim young people.

    Most people get up every morning to go to work because they are compenstated for it with money and wouldn't dream of going in for no pay. Why does it seem surprising that children and young people need a little compensation too.

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