Hello Friday

Thank you to everyone who congratulated me on the book! After I pushed “publish” yesterday, I sat here staring at my computer…lost in thought. Then today an article on CNN.com (with a really cute quiz) went up and wheeeeee. It’s official: I have lost the ability to concentrate.

I picked my son up from daycare and while driving home, he said, “I want moogis!(music)” So I turned on the radio. It was U2, my favorite band – I love Bono. Cue a smallish teary episode. I’m a such a sap!

Exposure like that brings wonderful things, but also some criticism. If you stop to read some of the comments on that CNN article (all 1,000 of them), so many people support reform. But some people don’t believe that schools should be paying for school lunches at all and that people should start packing lunches for their own kids.

In the past, I’ve blogged about how my own dad felt similarly. Today I got the following email from a reader:

I understand that the public schools are providing low nutrition food to the school children. But hasn’t it crossed your mind that the parents of these children can pack lunches for their children? If parents collectively make their kids pack their lunches, then the school cafeteria will not have any “customers.” Stop complaining, just do!

[…]Americans think they are entitled to good nutritious food in the free public school they send their kids to. “I am a tax paying citizen, my kids deserved nutritious food!” If you expect other people to teach (babysit actually, in certain parts of the nation) and feed your child, what else is your role as a parent?? You are only a landlord.

When someone suggests parents “just pack,” they assume there is healthy food in the house, the parents have some idea about nutrition, and they have the time. In our country, 43.6 million Americans live in poverty. How many of them are children? By chance, have you ever read the statistics on alcoholism? Not pretty. Some 14 million Americans are addicted to alcohol or abuse alcohol. One in seven Americans is on foodstamps. How many of them are parents just trying to get by?
I think about the financial struggles of the parents of my students. Moms and dads working night jobs, factory jobs, two jobs… Packing lunch? They’re trying to find time and money to grab dinner and breakfast.
I pack for my son at daycare and you know what? It’s a commitment. I have to wake up early to assemble his lunch and sometimes even cook before work (fun!). This morning my son woke up when I did, which meant I didn’t have that chunk of alone time to work quietly in the kitchen. So it was a big challenge to get both his breakfast and his lunch together, even with my husband’s support. Mornings are nuts around here.
The School Nutrition Association was interviewed for the CNN article and I wasn’t surprised by their comments. Yep, I’m pretty sure they hate me. But you know what? We actually share the same goals: kids eating well at school! We know that packed lunches often are nowhere near as healthy was what they could get in school. And frankly, the school needs the money from the lunch program.
I got a lot of touching comments over the past twenty-four hours. Oh great, I’m getting verklempt again…  But this one stands out in light of the “just pack” email:

As a child, I ate free or reduced price lunch meals throughout K-12. In college I had enough left over money from financial aid and loans to support a very bare-bones diet typical of many college students. Now, finally in the real world, I discover that I have no idea how to shop for real groceries or how to cook a healthy meal. One recipe called for lentils, and I had to Google what they were. I didn’t realize til I was 23 that I hadn’t been eating real food my entire life. I hope changes to school lunch menus can address this kind of problem. Us poor kids really aren’t getting real food any other way.

Thank you. Thank you so much. It’s the kids like you who inspired me in the first place.

(Tomorrow I’ll have the regular “lunch wrap-up” with the pics of my packed lunches and my son’s — Have I said it before? I’m really liking eating my own lunches!)

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22 thoughts on “Hello Friday

  1. I read many of those comments on the CNN site, too, and was once again amazed at how naive many people are to think that the solution is simply for parents to pack their kids' lunch. Besides the obvious dilemma of some parents being unable to afford to do that, some parents are just lousy parents and won't see to it that their child has a decent lunch to bring. Should kids have to eat a crappy lunch or go without lunch because of that? I can't accept that. My heart just isn't that cold.

  2. Wow – that comment took my breath away. Not even knowing what a lentil is? True, they weren't popular 20 years ago, but still…what about home ec? Social studies? Many cultures LIVE on pulses. And to come out of school without even a basic knowledge of cooking. Ouch.

    I'm on my second year of homeschooling my 7-year-old (haters, go ahead. I've got thick skin). Cooking, cleaning, grocery shopping, label examination, nutrition, all rudimentary parts of our daily education. Your journey through the cafeteria has often caused me to thank God that I don't have to send my son off on the bus every morning. Parents really do need to plug in and take some responsibility, even if they are relying on brick & mortar schools to educate. I agree with the previous email to a point – we have become just landlords to our kids. When did mom & dad stop educating side by side with the school system?

  3. I am totally on your side about this. Lets be realistic. We have lots of children who come from families who either don't have the means financially or knowledge to prepare healthy sack lunches for their children. The school lunch program was started because hungry children don't make good learners. I work for the WIC program and we have just recently gone through a total revamp of the foods we provide to increase their nutritious value (added whole grains, fruits and veggies). The way I see it we can provide healthy foods and encourage healthier lifestyles, or we can maintain status quo and keep a nation of unhealthy people which will drain our medical systems eventually. In the perfect world we would have healthy parents preparing healthy lunches (and breakfasts and suppers) for their children. However, that is not the case now. Lets improve our system and provide each child with a good lunch!

  4. I read the CNN article, and the response by the School Nutrition Association. If I blogged my school's lunch (where I work, and where my 2 boys attend), it would look worse than what you had. I'm not kidding. There are never any fresh vegetables, besides the occasional bags of mini carrots (probably twice in the year I've worked there). There is supposedly fresh fruit every day, but most of the time it runs out after kindergarten lunch. Fourth grade (school is K-4) hasn't seen fresh fruit all year, I don't think.

    But what's really sad is the breakfast. Nothing like starting your morning off with chocolate milk and a sugar-laden processed food. Really bad.

    Anyway, my boys eat about 4 school lunches a month. There are a few that make them happy, and that seldom I'm OK with it, even if it's not really food. I pack for them the other days. But that doesn't mean that I think my job is done! The fact is that in poor areas (my school is over 80% free and reduced lunch, so therefore every student gets a free lunch), there are families without the means to provide a good lunch. And maybe they'd do better if they themselves had eaten a good school lunch when they were in school. It's like the comment you quoted said. If it's what you are exposed to, you don't know that it's not really food.

    So, it takes a village. Like you're doing. Thanks.

  5. when I became a parent, I didnt know as much about nutrition as some people, so I fed my kids whatever, and they had very severe food/environmental allergies and I started to see what "allergic" reactions looked like (which incidentally only about 50% of those were allergens technically, the others were just adverse reactions to food additives) and then when my daughter was diagnosed with ADHD and my son with Asperger's syndrome and not wanting to drug them (after my years of failed medications for "mental illnesses") I looked for other solutions, and learned about artificial colors, flavors, preservatives etc. and since we had positive allergy skin tests, we knew to avoid some foods already, and when we got rid of all that, our lives changed DRAMATICALLY, and I also got allergy skin testing done on myself, and found out that a good portion of those "foods I didnt like" as a kid, were from the allergic reactions to them that I never knew were allergies, which for me, ended up being neurological and behavior issues (my mom said red coloring made me "crazy" as a kid) so once I had some positive reinforcement that the diet changes worked, I knew that we had to "make it work" somehow and that even though it took an immeasurable amount of extra time and effort (I also had to LEARN to cook these foods) to prepare all our foods from scratch to avoid these chemicals (or the equivalent amount of income to purchase "Whole Foods" packaged products) I was lucky enough to have gotten married to a wonderful man and it was financially possible (notice I didnt say easy or without sacrifice) for me to be a stay at home mom (I wasnt when the kids were smaller…I was in school and worked) and so for us, it became a priority to have healthy, non processed, gluten/dairy free (I have reactions to both, and so do the kids) organic food (it turns out that non-allergy or additive related food dislikes, were because I could "taste" the preservatives and chemicals used in growing the fruits/veggies and the hormones used in meat..now I only eat grass fed/pastured meat, and still rarely)

  6. Financially speaking, based on our income, we have qualified for "free lunch" the entire time, and we spend close to $1000 a month on food and get NO governmental assistance (which is considerably cheaper than the equivalent amount of purchased prepackaged foods at Whole Foods, it would be twice the cost) but in order to do it the cheapest way possible, I cook EVERYTHING from scratch, every day and my kids dont eat school lunch, and for most people who qualify for free lunch, its impossible to do both that much work to feed your family AND work outside the home AND then they have to know/learn about the problem and have the resources to implement what they learn.

    So its more than just "I want my kids to eat healthy". For us, we dont get things like new clothes and fancy technology and drove a 13 year old volkswagen with no AC, in south Florida, and my husband worked two jobs, so I could stay home, and we have four people crammed into a two bedroom 700 square feet apartment, because it was important to us and we could manage together, but it has NEVER been easy, and I COULD not do it as a single parent…so in some ways the school and the governmental overseers of these school lunch programs HAVE to be aware and responsible and do something, because many parents, even if they want to and are aware then they dont even consider it beyond "I cant afford it and dont have time" and then feel horribly guilty about not doing "everything they can" for their kids and then schools do little to nothing to change their part, not necessarily because they dont care, but they have time/financial limitations too, and we have an increase in ADHD/Asperger's of 600% and only AFTER the fact, do they (the government and parents and schools) consider the source of the problem and work to correct it.

    So Im in 100% agreement that its not solely the government's/schools job, but in reality, it cant be 100% the parents job either (on the occasions that my children forget their lunch and have to eat school lunch (I think legally the school has to do something for them because they wont let them "not eat") I am blessed to live in a great school district and they actually listen to their dietary restrictions and call to confirm the lunch choices beforehand… which they rarely eat because it doesnt "taste good" and this is the fruit/veggie non-processed portions of the school lunch (they usually gets a salad and an apple because thats what they have available) not the pizza, nuggets, milk portions that the other kids are eating everyday.) and that is RARE to have the school be that accommodating from what I know of other parent's stories. So, I am BLESSED to have been able to have the best for my kids, but IT has been A LOT of work and a LOT of time, and a LOT of money (our food budget is more than our rent payment) but the majority of people are not that lucky, so its not fair to blame only one or the other, or really to blame anyone but the Congress and Senate and FDA/USDA since they make the laws and school lunch subsidies that govern what the schools can do and they can promote comprehensive nutritional education through the schools for the parents and the children (which should include cooking classes in my opinion) and extensive education for parents of special needs children on the benefits of dietary changes for their kids….so its a BIG multifaceted issue, and everyone has to work together…

    It takes a village to raise a child…it really is true.

  7. Anytime a society changes in sweeping ways, the way our country went from a mostly rural family-farming country to what we are today, certain groups of people are made to play catch up. Those people are almost always the less-educated, poorer, landless people. It sounds easy to say "pack your own kids' lunch", but it's not easy when you're living in a small town with one grocery store that doesn't carry anything except carrots, white bread, and iceberg lettuce. Darn that pesky lack of a family farm with the laying hens and an acre for vegetable gardening.

    One year while visiting the Midwest, I wanted to cook a recipe I made all the time back home. I needed asparagus, but there was none to be found. The produce section mainly concentrated on iceberg lettuce and mealy red delicious apples. I had not understood the real scope of good food availablity problems until I tried to feed our family for a week there.

    I don't buy any excuse the government has when it comes to short-changing our kids at school lunch. We have plenty of money; I think the argument is on allocation of that money. It's embarrassing. It even becomes funny when my kids bring home the monthly menus and at the bottom are cartoons encouraging the kids to eat 5 vegetables a day, or whole grain bread, or any number of things that the school itself does not serve.

  8. I just want to add to what you and a commenter said about lentils. I was at Marc's yesterday (a discount grocery/drug store) and overhead a customer ask an employee where the lentils were. The employee was confused and asked the customer to repeat what she was looking for several times until the customer got frustrated and said, "they are probably near the beans. Where are your beans?" The employee said, "sorry, but I've never heard of lentils."

  9. Please help me continue @jaime_olivers #foodrevolution by RT this and following me and my blog! http://bit.ly/fQTZ

    Ms Q – Its amazing to find people as interested as I am in continuing Jaime Olivers Food Revolution. We should talk more about this, Im planning a kickstarter project in regard to the food revolution. I couldnt find you on twitter but shoot me a message if your interested in speaking more about this. @Rebeccca_Zammit

    Keep up the great blogging!
    Cant wait to read your book!


  10. Stumbled across this thanks to CNN, wish I'd have known about it earlier. I've been a teacher for 8 years and am now back at the district I grew up in. School lunches (while not as terrible as the way yours look) are sometimes just… not fit to eat. I worked at a tiny district a few years ago and got free breakfasts and lunches during summer school. My friend and I thought we should have documented it as a 30 days SuperSize me type of documentary–we were both gaining weight so badly we had to give up our free food. We only ate the portions they gave to kids, too.
    I understand (and sadly, have heard this many times from my students) how these are the only meals they get daily… so the calorie content should be high, but at what cost?
    Our school serves donuts for breakfast sometimes. Donuts covered in icing. You can't tell me that's the way to start your morning. All I can say is good job. It's about time someone paid attention to the food schools serve. It's not the schools' fault, that's the food their dealt. It's just a shame.
    Thank you for doing this!

  11. YUCK! I just got done looking through all the "food" you ate on this project and I don't know how you did it. I find it very bizarre that all the food being served looks like its straight from the microwave. Its ridiculous everything has a package that is a lot of waste, when they could easily be serving all those things on a tray. When I was a kid (80-90's) we had a lot of junk food served to us as well but it wasn't all prepacked stuff and we had a lot of healthy options too and the lunch ladies actually cooked a lot of stuff not just reheated.

  12. Poor kiddos. I get so sad when I hear them being blamed or taking the fall for their parents' shortcomings. Ideally all children would have a healthy lunch packed for them daily. That's not reality and we gain nothing by washing our hands of these children. We all pay for it eventually in obesity rates and future health care costs. I'd rather address the problem now, while we can, while they are young. Another thought – how cool would it be if I could pack two lunches, one for my kid one for another one I sort of adopt at lunch time. I could find out what they like. It could even be anonymous. I could drop off the lunch in the morning in the office when I drop off my daughter. Anyway, thank you!

  13. I really hope the same people who are accusing you of being "classist" aren't the sames ones who are saying "parents should just pack". If schools stopped serving lunch, plenty of kids would just go hungry.

    My sister worked as a volunteer for a year in inner-city NYC schools. The school served breakfast, lunch, and then "second lunch": a meal shortly after school for those kids who got ALL their food from the school, because their families couldn't afford even one meal a day. How would those kids eat if it wasn't for school lunch?

  14. Just a random comment- I have three lunches to pack right now (including my husband's), and I will have four starting next school year. The system that I have developed has made it all possible, without causing me so much grief:

    Just make a very large amount of dinner. Instead of putting the leftovers in the fridge, place your lunch holders, boxes, etc. on the counter and divvy up the food into them right after dinner. I will still usually have enough to pack a little extra for lunch for myself and my 5 and 3-year old for the next day. Assembly of other items takes an extra, maybe 2 or 3 minutes. Then I am done!

    This way, I only have to think about making dinner healthy and homemade, and I get two meals out of the deal. I don't spend a lot of "extra" time preparing the meal as a separate entity- it is just routine, dinner clean-up. There is also no prep in the morning.

    This blog has been very inspiring for me. Thank you!

  15. Feeding Children and educating children are completely intertwined. Diet quality goes hand in hand with both the short term and long term academic achievement of children. Hungry or malnourished children don't perform as well in school as their well fed counter parts and a long term poor diet even impacts the future earning potential of children. Socioeconomic struggles only add to these challenges. I agree, it is a little shortsighted to suggest parents can solve all the problems with school lunch programs by simply packing nutritious lunches for their kids. Ms. Q is right…not all parents know how to pack a healthy lunch and/or have access to the ingredients to do so. A healthy school lunch option goes a long way to help children put their best foot forward today and well into the future.

  16. Hmmm… reading all your comments about the importance of providing a healthy school lunch makes me wonder what kids here in Canada are eating for lunch at school… Canada doesn't have a national school lunch program; strange that Canada doesn't, but the US does (considering it is the opposite with health care) and apparently most other "1st world" countries do have some sort of program in place. Here in Ontario public elementary schools generally don't have kitchens or cafeterias, as far as I know, and everybody brings their own lunch. Many schools have a "pizza day" once a week or every couple of weeks where they provide pizza to kids whose parents have pre-ordered it. I think that is usually done as a fund-raiser.

    I always pack my son's lunch (obviously I have to, since that is the only option). I give him cooked food (left-over from supper) usually rice or pasta with veggies and meat sauce of some sort, in a food thermos, plus 2 or 3 different fruits (an apple, grapes and sometimes a clementine, some pineapple slices, a banana or something else) and a homemade baked item. Sometimes instead of cooked leftovers I give a him a boiled egg and a cheese sandwich (peanut butter usually isn't allowed in schools here because of allergies), but he by far prefers having cooked food, and I think cooked food is better anyway especially in cold weather, which here in Canada means for most of school year! The food I pack is enough for lunch and 2 snacks for him. He generally eats most of it, sometimes he will choose 2 out of the 3 different fruits, and then when he gets home he looks in his lunch bag and eats whatever fruit was left there.

    It takes a bit of effort on my part to pack his lunch, but like the other commenter above, Jenni, I pack most of it the night before, so in the morning I just have to pop the bowl of cooked food into the microwave, empty it into the thermos, take the already washed and packed grapes out of the fridge, etc.

    I know how to cook and we eat home cooked food every day, and I bake at least once a week. I work full time and have a demanding and imte-consuming job, but eating fast food on a regular basis is just not an option I consider. I have the resources to buy the groceries I need, and although I feel I spend a lot of money on groceries I am sure spend less on food than most people who routinely buy fast food and pre-packaged foods. But as pointed out by many of you, not all parents have the ability/resources to pack decent lunches for their kids. So now I wonder what all the other kids in my son's school are eating for lunch?

  17. Can I ask what the alcoholism statistics have to do with the poverty statistics? It just seemed like two completely different sets of numbers jammed together in a paragraph, with no context to why they might be related.

  18. I threw the alcoholism stats in there because I had read an article about alcoholism and I think that there is alcoholism in the school's neighborhood.

  19. I pack lunches for my kids every day, and I'll go on doing it, but I really, really, REALLY wish my kids could have a hot lunch in the winter time. It's been hovering between 0 and 10 degrees lately where I live, and my kids are stuck trudging across a snowy, frigid parking lot to sit in a drafty cafeteria where they eat cold lunches. It's especially hard for my middle kid, who doesn't have much body fat because she was a sick baby and just never built up the fat stores that other kids do.

    On top of that, all the kids at our school who are receiving free/reduced cost lunches deserve healthy, hot food, too.

  20. Dear Mrs. Q –

    The School Nutrition Association does not hate you, but we are frustrated to see the hard work of school nutrition professionals nationwide denigrated when you and others make comments like “The meals I ate were identical to meals eaten by kids all over this country every day in a school in your neighborhood.”

    School meals have always had a bad reputation, and statements like these allow parents to assume the worst about their own school nutrition programs, without taking time to find out what their schools have done to improve their meals.

    School Nutrition Association does not defend schools that still serve unhealthy or unappetizing school meals, but we do speak out for the thousands of school districts that have worked hard to bring change to their cafeterias.

    Please, take a look at http://www.TrayTalk.org to see examples of schools nationwide that are overcoming limited resources to serve healthy meals while teaching kids about good nutrition. School gardens, farm to school programs, fruit and veggie tastings, kids chef competitions are happening throughout the country. Unfortunately, these successes do not get the media attention they deserve.

    Parents – give your school meal programs a chance! Support your school nutrition program by celebrating the healthy changes they have made. Know that change takes time. Just as it can take a child 9 to 10 tastes to accept a new food, schools can test healthy new menu items 9 to 10 times before they find one that the kids will eat. Ask your school nutrition professionals how you can support these changes – maybe they need volunteers in the cafeteria to encourage children to try the healthier new menu items or new members on the wellness committee.

    Mrs. Q – you are right. We do share the same goals. We want ALL kids to eat well at school, and we are thankful that so many kids already do!

    Helen Phillips, SNS
    School Nutrition Association President-Elect

  21. Have you thought about doing bento boxes? Lots of fun! I do them as a hobby and they are healthy as a side effect.

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