Before I watched Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution
it did not occur to me that the school cafeterias had functioning kitchens. My mom packed my lunch everyday, so I never paid much attention and I assumed everything came frozen and was heated up.
I’ve been making my fair share of observations in the cafeteria. Most kids do not eat a whole lot during lunch. They can’t socialize during class, so lunch is a free time with their friends. This is one criticism I have of the show; for the sake of drama they made it seem like kids refused to eat Jamie’s food and were throwing it all away, but that happens regardless of what they are eating. Yes, I see kids throw away more bananas than half eaten cookies, but both often go in the garbage. Food is the incidental part of lunch for most kids.
I’ve observed a lot of positive qualities about the cafeteria:
- There are always sandwiches on wheat bread available.
- There is always fruit like apples, oranges and bananas
- There is no soda.
- There are usually salads (and I even saw a child buy one once).
- There are forks, knives and spoons (but no plates).
Overall, I think it would be possible to eat a healthy and nutritious meal in this school cafeteria unless you are a vegetarian or have other dietary restrictions.
I’ve also observed negative qualities of the cafeteria, namely that there is a lot of fried and beige food.
A lunch consisting of a soft pretzel and a bagel (below)
Chicken fingers, potatoes and broccoli bits (below)
Chicken nuggets and fries (below)
The other negative qualities of the cafeteria are behavioral – the choices the children make each day. For example, I’ve never seen a student buy one of the apples that are for sale. Purchased snacks are usually cookies, soft pretzels, bagels and ice cream. Super healthy, nutritious, unprocessed foods are available and that is great, but so is all the junk or “treats .” What do you think most 3rd – 6th graders choose to purchase?
Kids with packed lunches eat fruits and vegetables. I see them munching their carrots dipped in hummus or eating leftovers from the previous night’s dinner.
Home Lunch: Sushi, orange, pretzels and chocolate milk.
In the back is part of a lunch from home – an apple and string cheese. In the front is a school lunch – chicken Parmesan sandwich, French fries and garlic bread. (not pictured)
The vegetables served by the school are a shade of gray. I am not surprised they go uneaten and tossed in the garbage. Would you eat it?
So what’s the solution? It’s easy to say that parents should give their children lunches from home. It would make everything easier and the stuff that kids eat would fall squarely on the shoulders of parents. But what about kids who receive free or subsidized lunch? Or kids whose parents simply cannot make lunches for whatever reason?
My suggestion is simple, really. Offer better quality healthy food and limit the treats/junk with a little bit of education on the side.
(1) Make the healthy stuff better: Healthy food is offered, but it is not the star of the show. Kids eat most of their packed lunches, which are usually more balanced than the school lunches. Kids will eat food they like, and presumably they like the lunches they bring to school. It’s not enough just to have a slab of vegetables on a plate. It must be good and that does require some work.
(2) Limit the junk: I am all for treats, but I don’t think kids need to eat 5 cookies, a bagel and a soft pretzel everyday at lunch, especially when that’s all they are eating. When I was little we had ice cream at school once a week. I don’t think it should be taken out completely, but I also think kids could use a little help achieving moderation and balance. Instead of taunting them with the sugar laden tasty things every single day, just offer cookies once a week. I think it’s unfair to send kids to school with money for lunch and expect them to make ideal choices everyday when the other options are safer (or at least more familiar) and tastier.
(3) Teach good decision making: Look, I’m a teacher and I know the last thing teachers have time for is to teach kids about nutrition and food. It only takes a little bit of time (and leading by example) to help kids make better decisions. I am not saying teach about good and bad foods – no, no, no, but rather teach about where food comes from, how it’s made, the benefits of good food, etc. This just might sink into the brains of a few children! I have a “Lunch Bunch” where kids eat with me in the classroom on a rotating basis. Kids love having lunch with their teacher and talking about what’s in their teacher’s lunch. It’s informal and social, but also informative!
Heather asks: What do you think about school lunches or lunches in corporate cafeterias? Whose responsibility is it to teach children what to eat? Should schools cut out all junk food? What do you think?