School Lunches and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012

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School’s back in session, and that means that school lunches and breakfasts are likely a big part of you kid’s day.  Have you ever wondered how it all works?  Who’s to say your child can’t go through the lunch line and choose only the dessert option for his or her lunch?  I wonder about this and basically interrogate my child each day. I am always surprised when she tells me she had “dry” broccoli (raw) or an orange with her lunch.  I think “who is this kid and what did she do with my non-broccoli-eating daughter.”

According to the Pflugerville Independent School District web site, there is a meal pattern in place to ensure students choose items wisely.  This explains how and why my child is choosing foods that she typically passes up on at home, but I still have some pretty major concerns about some of the stuff she tells me about eating.

As you may know, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012 was put into place this year, helping ensure that free or low-cost, nutritious meals are available to students. In addition to Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012, general federal guidelines regarding the quality of food provided for school breakfasts and meals have changed as well. This is the first time these guidelines have changed in fifteen years.  The push is for more whole grains, more vegetable and fruit options, and reduced amounts of sugar, salt, and fat in school meals. You can read all about the changes on this Square Meals page.

The changes sound great, and frankly, who doesn’t want our children to be healthier and to develop better eating habits?  I can’t say that I see where these changes are evident, though.  My oldest child is a first grader at an elementary school in the Pflugerville Independent School District, and she gets a printed calendar of all breakfast and lunch menus sent home at the beginning of each month.Advertisement
The calendar lists all complete meals as well as side items and drinks, and it denotes whether items are go, slow, or whoa items.  Go items are the most healthful while whoa items are the least healthful.  I am constantly surprised how many whoa items are offered.  For the vast majority of the meals offered, the main dish is a whoa item while the sides and secondary dishes are usually slow items. The go items listed are typically sides.  It is impossible for a child to make menu selections that result in a substantial meal that is made up completely of go items.  Considering the literature sent home and the message repeated to students regarding avoiding whoa items and choosing go items, this lack of substantial go items confounds me.

The first week of school, I sent a personal-sized serving of plain Pringles with my daughter for her snack. That evening, she came home and gave me angry eyebrows as she informed me that I was not supposed to send chips for her snack.  I kinda rolled my eyes and muttered under my breath about how the school couldn’t tell me what to feed my kid.

I appreciate the old adage that it takes a village to raise a child, and considering I happily send my kid off to learn from others in a public school setting, I obviously embrace it wholeheartedly.  I am still taken aback, though, by getting directives about what to feed my kid from her teacher considering that what is available from the cafeteria contradicts the message her teacher is sending. Out of the two-ish weeks she’s been back at school, I think my kid’s had a corn dog for lunch at least three times.  She’s had a cheese burger. She’s had a sloppy joe sandwich.  She’s had tater tots. I need someone to tell me how these items are better for my child than a personal-sized container of plain Pringles. But I am not cranky or bitter or anything.

What does the future hold?  Your guess is as good as mine. I would like to see more consistency between the message and the product. I’d like to see more main dishes that are healthful. I’d like to see far less processed junk. And I promise to never again send chips for snack.

2 Comments on School Lunches and the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2012

  1. What a great article. I was initially pleasantly surprised that the school menu incorporated “go”, “slow”, and “whoa” foods. My nutritional education thus far (I’m in a Public Health Nutrition degree program) has shown that the “traffic-light” system is a great tool for helping kids figure out which foods are best for their bodies. But it’s only good if you offer plenty of the “go” foods. It doesn’t take a nutrition degree to know that. The teacher needs to stay out of the nutrition business. We had a teacher last year who regularly judged the kids’ lunches for nutritional content. Needless to say, it was not a popular practice with the parents (or the kids).

    I do like the changes the federal government is making, but I wonder if they are enough. School lunches do meet requirements for protein, vitamins, and minerals. But studies have shown that the majority of school lunches exceed the amount of sodium and fat kids need from lunch. This is what happens when your main entrees are essentially fast food items. I wish Jamie Oliver could come into every school in America and elicit the changes he did in West Virginia. There are ways to make healthy, delicious, kid-friendly school lunches that don’t dumb it down to burgers and pizza.

    Everyone needs some of the “whoa” foods every once in a while – life’s too short – but not as an entree on the “nutritious” school lunch menu. I’d love to have my kiddo eat school lunch a little more often (especially for warm food on cold days), but since most of it is “whoa”, we’ll just pack some “go” and a little “slow” from home, and limit the “whoa” to a handful of times each month.

  2. I ate lunch with my child at her AISD school and was pleasantly surprised. There were lots of choices, with the GO items being the first things kids see. The children’s teacher and principal reminded little ones to pick a vegetable and a fruit as they went through the line, and the healthy foods actually looked colorful and appealing. Kids definitely grabbed “slow” and “whoa” stuff, too, but I was happy to see the good stuff and that it tasted great–way better than the school meals I remember as a kid.

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