School lunch article in the Trib

While I’ve been relaxing with the family this weekend, this article is making the rounds on Twitter and the blog-o-sphere:

You can lead kids to broccoli, but you can’t make them eat

The article insinuates that the “new” and “healthy” food given to kids attending Chicago Public Schools is not being eaten and instead being thrown away.

I need numbers and data, people. I mean, do we even know what they were eating before and what they are supposedly not eating now? Where are the before/after comparisons? Here’s what I’m after:

1) What are the students not eating? The veggies? Or the “new” whole-grain items? (Both of which were presented in the article) I need more than just insinuation.

2) The article refers to Chartwells-Thompson as the sole “caterer” of Chicago Public School meals. But there are other vendors. Which meals exactly are being refused?

Look, I have to answer to hard facts on my students’ classroom performance — does this article really give me something that I can hold onto in terms of real numbers? Sorry, it doesn’t.

Interestingly, the article notes “CPS forbids the use of salt in the preparation of vegetables or other fresh food offered to students, although the district allows high levels of sodium in the processed foods it serves.”

Oh jeez.

Now that’s telling, isn’t it?

Has there been a radical change in menu items year over year? Not at my school. They are still throwing away what they threw away before because it appears to be same stuff. But my big takeaway from this article is that there needs to be nutrition education as a companion to menu changes. If you feed something new to kids, you can’t just plop it down in front of them and say “here you go.” When I change things up in my classroom routine, I give students a “heads up.” It would be nice if we tried to do that with them in the lunchroom too.

Further reading:
Buyer’s Remorse Over Healthier School Food? (Better DC School Food)

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7 thoughts on “School lunch article in the Trib

  1. Kudos to Monica Eng and the Chicago Tribune for their sustained coverage of school food issues–the only major mainstream outlet to be doing so, as far as I can tell.

    If you are looking for scientifically valid data on this question, you're not going to find it. Remember, what happens in school cafeterias is, for all intents and purposes, a secret. But what the Trib has exposed in this story merely confirms what the USDA has known for years and what my own daily observations of cafeteria operations here in the District of Columbia have shown: vast quantities of food get thrown in the trash every day. Not just because kids don't like it. They don't want it.

    The "offered versus served" system is supposed to eliminate some of that waste. But there's still plenty. What kids especially don't eat are the vegetable side dishes and whole grains. But we already knew that these are kids' least favorite foods. Yet it's precisely these that the USDA's proposed new meal guidelines call for much more of, while removing things kids like most, such as potatoes.

    As you say, there is a huge hole in the effort to introduce more of these "healthier" foods to the cafeteria, and that is the education piece, as you call it. I would simply say that kids are not being engaged much at all in this process. The federally-reimbursed school meals program in fact could hardly be less kid-friendly.

  2. But the federally reimbursed program isn't meant to be kid friendly. It's meant to be a feel good piece of legislation so that the politicians and government can say "Look at us. We care about what children are eating. We don't want children going hungry so we're making sure that there is food available and it's nutritionally correct."

  3. Actually, the federal school meal programs exist as much to serve the interests of agrculture as the interests of kids. That's why the programs are overseen by the USDA. Which letter in the USDA's name stands for "kids"? or for "nutrition"?

  4. It's generally true that you can't make kids eat, but there are foods they'll be more comfortable with and foods they'll be less comfortable with.

    Ithaca has a program that helps supplement federal funding for school food so we can provide healthy snacks to elementary school kids, and some volunteers sold cornbread at this weekend's Chili Cook-Off to raise money for it. Each $1 piece of cornbread funds five healthy snacks. What those snacks are will vary, but the poster quotes a girl telling her mom, "I ate spinach at school today. I told my teacher that I liked it. We should buy some spinach." Another kid reports that she now likes vegetables more than potato chips.

    The TV advertising for baby carrots as a snack food looks kind of goofy, and gets some laughs, but you know? Kids like baby carrots. They're sweet and crunchy and easy to carry and eat, so they're a really good start.

  5. The salt thing is ridiculous! It baffles me that we allow so much sodium in processed food but god forbid you put a little butter and salt on a piece of broccoli so the kid will enjoy it. How many adults eat plain broccoli as a side dish with a meal? Plain spinach? Kale? You get the idea. Saute that broccoli with some garlic, salt, and butter or olive oil. Finish the steamed kale with some kosher salt and sesame oil. Fire up some collards with a little bacon. People will actually eat and enjoy it.

  6. I wouldn't be surprised that the kids are throwing out the food and calling it nasty – new and improved or not. In my lexicon, Chartwells is synonymous with terrible food. I don't have much experience eating elementary school food, but over the course of my undergrad degree I ate in many college cafeterias, either at one of the schools I attended or visiting friends. Chartwells ran many of those cafeterias, and the Chartwells ones were always awful. There was one year of college, while at a Chartwells-run school in a kitchen-less dorm, that I ate all of my meals out of a Microfridge.

  7. Boosting veggie intake means:
    *institutional food services have to do more than open up frozen bags and barely warm them over–learn to make dark greens taste good!
    *adults at home need to insist on food variety and openness with their kids, figure out how to prepare or procure veggies that are delicious, and not cave instantaneously if the kid screams for chicken nuggets.

    Til the above happens in larger numbers, I just don't think things will move.

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