Day 26: chili

Today’s menu: chili, beans, tortilla chips, icee, milk

So…the chili was actually quite good and I ate the beans and chips too. I couldn’t bring myself to eat the icee, but I did force myself to try it. The sweetness was overpowering. I winced. I don’t have a clue how much high fructose corn syrup was in it, but I couldn’t stomach more than a drop or two.

I talked to two of my students about what they ate at lunch. They told me they ate the icees (evidence: red stains around lips and on shirt), the chips, and the milk. The rest they threw away. Can you imagine the spike in blood sugar?

I don’t think that students should be offered “icees” at school. Since it’s coming from the school, why would they suspect that it might be bad for them? About 30-45 minutes after lunch one of the students I interviewed seemed to “crash”  physically (some tears about a minor offense from a classmate). This same student seemed pretty spaced out. What are we doing to kids?

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34 thoughts on “Day 26: chili

  1. I notice more stomach aches, headaches, restlessness after lunch. I am sure it has to do with what the kids are eating for lunch.

    Thanks for continuing your good and important work!

  2. It completely baffles me that anyone, anyone, whether health nut or child ignorant of any kind of nutritional information, would eat the chips but skip on the meat! I'd be very very curious to see what kind of decision making process goes into that.

  3. I have a seven month old daughter. I recently read an article that said if I try to keep sugar and salt out of her diet for the first year of eating real food her taste buds will develop quite differently. So, it makes me wonder if the damage is done long before kids get to school.

    My family is constantly giving us crap about how much we "torture the baby" by keeping sweets and salty foods from her, but if it let's her appreciate real food later, I am all for it.

  4. @logical libby — seven months is too young to crazy with sugar and salt. I'm shocked that you get so much pressure. Good for you for resisting!

  5. Right, unless these "icees" are 100% fruit juice (as in pressed apples or blended berries with NOTHING added) why on EARTH would anyone think it a good idea to feed them to kids? Some of your lunches might be better than others, but when you offer kids 1 or 2 "good" parts of lunch and 3 or 4 not so good or bad, how much "good" could they possibly be getting? Kids should not be allowed to choose what they eat for lunch – they should be offered healthy options at ALL times.

  6. Its no surprise you witnessed a meltdown of a student 30-45 minutes after eating an icee. The artificial colors in that icee have been implicated in behavioral issues by a well respected medical journal (Lancet, Sept 2007)

    These and other hazardous chemicals act like second hand smoke in our classrooms. Impacting a teacher's ablity to teach and everyone's ability to learn. So why do we only care about calories and fat grams?

    Good question, Mrs. Q, what ARE we doing to our kids?

  7. God bless you, there is NO WAY I would do what you're doing. I've been teaching 20 years and pride myself on having never once eaten a school lunch. Have you noticed any weight changes? It'd be interesting to see if your cholesterol changes during the year. Thank goodness the rest of your meals are healthy.

  8. This is very enlightening. We shouldn't be expecting small children to be able to make good decisions on what to eat alone. If they had only been given the chili and beans, they'd have eaten them.

    Though, I'm sure the chili and beans were salt-laden.

    It would be interesting how many parents would allow their children to eat school lunches if the nutritional facts were listed on the menu calendar, instead of just what was being offered.

  9. Imagine the amount of money that could be saved – money that could go to better quality food – if the schools cut out the "dessert" portion of each and every lunch.

  10. Teach about it! After lunch have kids write down what they ate and how they feel- alert, full, tired, etc. Then do it again every 30 minutes for the rest of the afternoon. Try it again on a healthy meal day and talk about it with them. (I don't know the ages you teach, but you could adapt this)

  11. Reading this blog sure is bringing up a lot of memories for me of when I was in elementary school. It's amazing how much worse the school lunches are now than when I was a kid, and they certainly weren't gourmet then!

    Our cafeteria had things like ice cream bars and popcicles for sale (and I bet these icees are no more nutritionally sound than a popcicle), but they didn't come with the regular lunch, they were extras and cost extra. Since my mom never gave me more than enough money for the standard meal, I could never get the "extras". I remember feeling a little jealous of the kids that did get popcicles, but I didn't mind too much because I noticed those kids just ate the popcicle first (so it wouldn't melt) and then didn't have time to eat the rest of their meal (even as a little kid I knew that was bad and if I just had a popcicle for lunch I would still be hungry).

    The standard school meals always had an entree, two side vegetables/fruits, and milk or juice. The "worst" thing that ever came with the actual meal was when the lunch ladies would make a cobbler/crisp and count that as a side that could come with the meal. I LOVED those days, because that was the only time I could get a "dessert" with my school lunch. They were made with canned fruit pie filling topped with oatmeal and baked in one of the warming trays. It was yummy and probably relatively healthy as far as sweets go. Certainly better to consider apple crisp that actually contains chunks of apple as a fruit rather than an artificially flavored cherry popcicle! People bring up the "ketchup is a vegetable" scandal a lot, but "a popcicle is fruit" is just as bad, and the ketchup thing never actually went through.

    I mean, really people, I don't think they need to have an organic salad bar, but kids don't need to be eating chips and a popcicle for lunch! My school also had "frito pie" on some days, but they dumped the (canned) chili on top of the chips as they served it, so that made it hard for kids to just eat the chips and skip the chili. It's amazing that Mrs. Q's school is making frito pie look like a health food.

  12. I know when I was in school, we had orange icees. They seem more healthy than the red juice icees. I lived in Florida, so orange flavored icees were the norm. It's a possibility that the school system could change to natural flavored icees instead of HFCS.

  13. I'm from Iceland, and although I had graduated by the time school lunches became the norm in my school (4 years ago) I have been able to follow how things have been progressing through my younger siblings. Never EVER is anything served that isn't fresh, fish is served twice a week and every single morning there is oatmeal, and nothing but oatmeal offered for breakfast. Needless to say, everybody loves a warm oatmeal in the morning, especially with cinnamon and fresh fruit on top, and nobody would even think about having sugary pastries or cereal to start the day with. I can therefor honestly say that children don't need sugar to be eat what's put in front of them, they just need care and consideration to be added.
    Hopefully something (a lot actually) good will come out of you experiment. I think about this website everytime I go to the school canteen here at my university in SW-France (and not because of striking similarities, believe me).

    Keep up the good work.

  14. What I'd be interested in is seeing how much more expensive it would be to make a healthy version of these lunches. I serve chili and corn chips to my child. The chili is made with extra lean turkey and diced tomatoes. The corn chips are purchased from Trader Joes and contain no preservatives or HFCS and really aren't expensive. An "icee" could be made with frozen 100% fruit juice which is not that much more expensive than the HFCS laden stuff you buy in the stores. The red food dye is ridiculous and serves no food related purpose.

    Those beans baffle me because I can't imagine any child I know eating them. Certainly they could be included in the chili though.

    So … how much more would it cost I wonder?

    The other thing that gets me is the chocolate milk. We were never given the choice of chocolate milk in school and I wonder why that was started?

  15. I loved those icees when I was in grade school!

    I also find it odd that you get most of your foods in prepackaged trays, we NEVER had that in our school.

  16. I do think that the most disturbing thing about your lunches is the way it's packaged. Everything just looks like cheap frozen dinners, which they probably are.

    At first I was grateful for the lunches that my school served after seeing what yours looked like. However, once I thought about it our food is probably just as bad just not packaged the way yours is.

    The thing that shocks me the most about our school's food is the breakfast they serve. Almost everything is served with syrup. If not syrup than it's a prepackaged sugary cereal or something that should be qualified as a dessert. (Frosted Cherry pie, anyone?) I can't even imagine the sugar crash these kids have right around the time their going to their reading groups. That's productive. A crashing brain trying to learn to read?

  17. I think i know why the students avoided the main dishes and just ate the icee, chips and milk. I know this is going to sound really really silly but I remember as a kid this would always a reason why the food would be avoided. Its a stigma about the food. In this case the chili and beans. I pretty sure the students teased each other about the farting and how the food looked gross. Trust me I remember not eating some of my lunches because I didn't want to be known as the girl who ate the gross food or the one who will be farting because she ate the beans.


    honestly the icee would have tasted the same if it was loaded up with plain old sugar. you obviously try to eat really healthy and kudos to you, that being said, you probably have a lower tolerance for super sweet items. maybe even sweetness in general. that's perfectly fine. if your diet consisted of sodas on a regular basis, or candy and sweets then you probably wouldn't notice the sweetness of the icee. though i agree that school lunches, especially since they are the main meal of many children, should be healthier and perhaps larger, what i see of your school's lunches is pretty good. our food was disgusting. when i was in grade school it was delicious. i LOVED the green beans and we had real variety. by the time i go to high school the food was gross, mostly reheated tasteless food. the milk came in pouches and we used to joke they looked like breast implants lol. most students opted for the little debbies and junk food that was available because the food was truly gross.

  19. ps if icees are the worst of it, you are lucky, we had not only the option of little debbies, they were the HUGE sized ones and we had plenty of vending machines. although i do agree that if they throw away the main portion of food you are going to have the spike and crash. as long as the school lunches dont include them more than say once a week i dont think it should be a problem. you must remember that probably some of these kids dont get sweet treats ever either because they cant afford them too. that being said, it might be nice if instead of the icees they had some kind of frozen fruit based popcicle or lowfat soft serve cup on fridays or something. i know that most of the time you say the fruit cups are frozen lol.

  20. I agree that icees should not be offered at school. The same goes for ice cream pops, ice cream bars, etc. that are available (at least in my school) on a daily basis. Kids do not have the decision making skills needed to treat these items as an occasional treat. Many students eat only the chips, cookies, ice cream for their whole meal day after day. Parents and othr caregivers would be surprised and appalled. Thanks for bringing national attention to this topic.

  21. New here. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks now. Great btw with what you are doing. I have 4 kids. 2 are in school. They get the "icees" too. They are called ice juicees here though. I cringe everytime! They serve those at least every 2 weeks. ugh!

  22. Seems like a viscious cycle. The chili looks "gross" (mainly the packaging) and the kids throw it out. The schools see so much money wasted on food that ends up in their dumpsters and have a hard time justifying spending more. Like someone else said, I feel a lot of the problem is in the delivery. My husband has a theory that humans can taste effort; the "love" put into a meal. There is no effort put forth in these meals. Imagine it a bit differently. The chili in a bowl, the child asked if they'd like a bit of cheese sprinkled on top, maybe some crackers, a little human interaction with the food. Kids might actually eat it then.

  23. I'm so glad that you mentioned the ridiculous amount of high fructose corn syrup in those icees. Sugar is a big problem when it comes to being overweight and unhealthy. I don't know how many people are aware of this, but the most sugar a person should have DAILY is 15 GRAMS. I guarantee that the average american kid consumes at least triple that number. Having the most attractive food on the tray of a typical school lunch contain more sugar than the healthy daily limit is horrible. No wonder we have childhood obesity.

  24. I am a Highschool student who is about to graduate. It is funny reading this and all the comments. to those who say that the kids who only ate the chips and threw the chili away are wrong, I have to say maybe so, but I understand the reason they did. Starting in elementary school, my friends and I learned what lunches to eat and what ones not. Things like chili and hamburger never tasted or even looked good at my school! So if we forgot to bring a lunch my friends and I would just eat whatever else we liked and thew whatever we didn't away. I can tell you each and every thing on our school menu, whether it is good or not, and whether most of the students in our school like it or not.

  25. At my school we used to get the same brand of icee pops. I almost never ate them, but instead would place it underneath my plate to try and lower the temperature of the sometimes scorching-hot food.

    A lot of people just used them as projectiles. I mean, just LOOK at the thing; it's design is just begging for it to be thrown, sadly.

  26. @ Shakeel

    It doesn't baffle me. The chips are junk food, and almost all junk food is considered "safe" to eat (read = familiar and tasty) in a kid's mind. The meat, however, is unrecognizable and packaged in a way that looks unappealing to kids.

  27. I have to admit, I absolutely loved the icee pops when I was in elementary school. We used to get the same ones. Rarely did they ever come with our main lunch. Instead, they were extra "treats" that we had to buy for 25 cents each back in the day, and I would buy them quite often. I never realized how sweet they were. That being said, I was never a junk food fiend when I was younger. My parents NEVER bought me chips or soda and I didn't even start liking candy until my older mid-elementary years. However, if you offered one of those icees to me now, I might still even eat it.

  28. this entry made me cry – specifically about the kid crying over a minor offense with another student, KNOWING what he/she did/didn't eat at lunch, and that the school WASTES their money on icees. 🙁

  29. Personally I like beans, good source of protein.

    Back in elementary school, I hated beans, especially refried beans. They stunk, and even if they didn't, the other kids would make fun of anyone who would attempt to eat them. 99% of it would go straight to the trash.

    I would invest the money to buy something else, like sliced celery sticks and peanut butter instead stink beans.

  30. I have a very bright, enthusiastic, energetic, 7.5 yo daughter. She *loves* to read, especially anything having to do with history, and is a solid student all around. BUT, if she doesn't get enough food or if she gets too much of the wrong kind – she's totally like the child you described at the end of this post. She can't focus, she's more emotional, zoned out. We homeschool, so I can keep her little brain on track by giving her healthy meals/snacks and lots of water, but my heart just breaks for little ones with needs just like hers that are spending good portions of the day at less than their best for want of proper nutrition and more conscientious care.

  31. I am so adverse to high fructose corn syrup that I don't drink any juice except a certain brand of orange juice.
    Recently I bought some because I am just tired of water. I do like a little flavour in my drink line up. I forgot how SWEET juices are. The only place I find some that are ALL juice with little or no high fructose corn syrup is in the health food/organic (my boyfriend calls it the "hippie") aisle at my local grocers. If I feel up to the drive I will go to the whole foods market, but I usually don't feel up to the drive just to get juice.
    High fructose corn syrup is evil stuff. Drinking anything with it in it is like drinking a candy bar. If I wanted the sugar I would rather down a chocolate bar. At least dark chocolate has some antioxidants.

  32. I am quite saddened to see the meal choices offered at Mrs. Q's school. My daughter attends a small midwestern school corporation in East Central Indiana. As they were when I was in school in the '70's and '80's, most of the lunches are still, (I think) prepared by staff on-site.

    The biggest change to take place in the school lunch program here, was about 8 years ago, when administrators made the decision to partner with Sodexho to provide the ingredients purchased, (to take advantage of bulk-buying discounts). This brought about a change in their menu planning options, as the kitchen managers now are required to adhere to Sodexho's "rules" regarding menu options. Students biggest complaint: the quality of the school pizza has declined substantially. And menus seem to be thrown together with no rhyme or reason, anymore.

    I mean, c'mon, "Chicken nuggets served with mashed potatoes and gravy, and (the dreaded) fruit cup". Gone are the days of "homemade chicken and noodles, mashed potatoes, buttered green beans, roll, and fruit crisp", like we were served. Try to even get a "bowl of chili, peanut butter sandwich, celery sticks, and cookie", the menus make no sense, anymore!

    I'm going to show this blog to my 8th grader and ask her if she's ever seen meals that look like this at her school, now. She complains about the lunches they are served, but as of 2005, when I ended my 5 year tenure as PTO President, things were still not so bad! I think if more parents SAW the lunches their kids were eating, more pressure might be placed on administrators to DO something!

    By the way, I spent two years in our school corporation substitute teaching, and ate the school lunches every day I worked, (prior to the changes 8 years ago), and the lunches were still good. They were mostly the same menus, same preparations I remembered from when I was a student in the same school system, (I even saw some of the same "lunch ladies")!

    CHEERS to you, Mrs. Q! Good Luck with your project, and I'm glad it isn't me, those lunches look positively horrifying!

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