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Wednesday, March 24, 2010

School Lunch

I met my daughter for school lunch today. I rarely let her buy lunch, so it was a double treat-- buying lunch and having her parents there (my husband met us too).

I had seen the school lunch menu and was not impressed. Corn dogs, pizza, chicken nuggets, and always a choice of yogurt if they don't like the main entree. So I had pretty low expectations. I'm glad to say there were some positives, although there is definitely room for improvement.

We started with milk. We had 3 choices: plain, chocolate or strawberry. I chose plain, but that was the only one I saw at our whole table. Most kids went for chocolate (including my daughter and my husband). The milk was not labeled as low-fat, and I am assuming it was whole! I was pleasantly surprise to see these kids getting healthy fats. I was also very surprised to see "Grade A. Pasteurized." Notice something missing? The milk was not homogenized, and had instructions to "shake well." Homogenization breaks up the delicate fats, so I'm thrilled that the milk is un-homogenized. One environmental note: the milk was served in little pouches as opposed to cardboard containers. I'm just guessing here, but thin plastic like that seems like it would take longer to break down, even though it does take up less space in a landfill.

As we moved down the line, we were able to fill our trays ourselves with orange slices, salad, cucumber slices and baby carrots-- as much as we wanted. The fruits and vegetables were fresh, and most kids took  at least some of the fruit and veggies. I liked that they were able to choose, and help themselves to whatever quantities they desired. There was only one type of salad dressing offered- ranch. I put it on my tray, but when I saw the ingredient list, I left it unopened. The ingredients list covered the entire packet, and the first ingredient was soybean oil. Kind of takes away from the healthfulness of the salad if all you have to dip it in is that.

We were on to our entree next. There were three choices. A tostada, macaroni and cheese, something labeled "Taco Nada" that looked like a tamale, or a low-fat strawberry yogurt. My husband and I chose the tostadas. It was a little soggy on the bottom and cooked-in-the-microwave-style crispy on the edges. Our daughter had the neon orange macaroni and cheese. These are the kinds of foods that give school lunch a bad name. Processed, reheated foods with little nutritional value. White noodles in a fake cheese sauce or a melted cheese-like substance on a fried shell are not my idea of healthy choices.

I'd break it down like this: Positives: un-homogenized whole milk offered, fruits and veggies offered, no dessert. Negatives: two of the three milks have added sugar, the only dressing is made with soybean oil and other unhealthy ingredients, the entree is highly processed. So, while they has lots of room for improvement, I'd give the overall lunch a C+.  School lunches have long been known for being less-than-desirable, but our school is trying.

Being at school lunch today brought back a memory from my own school days of Brad Benner following me around the playground asking me if I liked soggy hamburger buns. I could see he was holding something under his shirt, so it was with caution that I asked, "Why are you asking?"  "Just answer the question," he insisted. "No, I don't like them." I said, still wary. Out from under his shirt came a petition and a pen. "Sign your name here if you don't like soggy hamburger buns." I signed. And you know what? We still had hamburgers at school, but they changed those soggy buns. Instead of heating the burger and bun together, which did make a soggy bun on the bottom, they heated them separately. It was a simple solution, and the most amazing thing of all is that the change was brought on by an elementary school student.

Maybe we need to start another petition for healthier school lunches. Until there are significant changes, my daughter will continue to bring her lunch. But what about all the kids who have parents who don't think they have time to bring a lunch, get school lunch paid for, or just don't care? It's for those kids, that are eating this food every day, that something needs to change.

Link to giveaway.

This post is part of Things I love Thursday.


  1. Regarding school lunches, check out Jamie Olivers new show, Food Revolution.

    This is going to be a real eye opener to parents whose children eat school lunches everyday, and hopefully to everyone who doesn't understand nutrition.

  2. I watched that online last night. It was great. I'm looking forward to the two hour series premiere on Friday.

  3. I just watched it last night. Very exciting to see something like this on mainstream TV!

  4. I am just curious as to why you would think that whole milk is "healthy fat?" It is saturated fat. Kids do need extra fat but it would be better if it came from unsaturated fats (polyunsaturated and monounsaturated). In 240 mL (1 cup) of whole milk, there are 8 grams of fat, 5 of which are saturated.

  5. Anonymous, Thanks for stopping by. I will try to briefly answer your question without taking up the whole comment section!
    The saturated fat found in whole milk is a completely natural fat. Humans have been drinking for thousands of years. Other natural fats (egg yolks, lard, animal fats, etc) have also been used in the human diet for the same length of time. One of the things I try to focus on is traditional eating: is this food something humans have been eating for a long time? The reason I ask that question is because you can look at human history and see that our health, particularly here in the US has declined in the past 100 years or so. So, it's good to ask what has changed in that time period?
    Fats are used for all kinds of processes in the body, like building cell walls, absorbing fat soluble vitamins, and as a source of energy. Here is a link to an article by Gary Taubes, who has done extensive research on fats and a healthy diet:
    I hope that helps to answer your question!

  6. Hey Chanelle!
    To answer the comment you left on my site...

    I have a separate blog that feeds in to my word press one..but the comments don't always transfer over. Read what a former USDA employee/school district consultant/food contractor has to say...pretty crazy.

    Oh! I voted for you too! I really do love that bag of milk:) Is it ok if I link to your site from my blog? I love it:)

  7. @mom in mesquite, thanks, I'd love it if you linked over here! I really enjoyed reading your blog today! Great info.

  8. Hi Chanelle,

    I enjoyed your commentary on school lunches. Thanks for the in-depth analysis!

    Just an FYI, saturated fat, no matter what the source, has the same negative impact on the body. The saturated fat in butter, certain oils, milk, McDonald's burgers and fries,'s all the same.

    Saturated is saturated, unsaturated is not. While saturated fat can be used by the body, it can also cause cardiovascular disease and cancer (yes, cancer!)

    Poly and monounsaturated fats carry the added benefit of lowering your LDL cholesterol, and omega-3 fatty acids can even raise your HDL.

    Humans have been eating butter for years,'s the portion sizes that are all wrong in this country. Many American's believe a serving size is a "plate" or "bowl" of food. Anything is OK in moderation. It's when we abuse our body's ability to metabolize and use those fats that we get into trouble.

    That being said, I appreciate your trying to eat more healthy by replacing foods with additives and preservatives for more wholesome and natural alternatives.

    Big Love and Respect!

    Christine BSN '11

  9. @glasshouse,
    Hi! Thanks for stopping by. I too used to believe that about saturated fat, but after researching I have changed my opinion on fats in general, and saturated fats specifically. If this is something you want to know more about, I'd encourage you to read Good Calories, Bad Calories by Gary Taubes. That book is a review of the nutrition science done in the last about 100 years, and to me, it clearly shows that science shows saturated fat is actually a good thing for our body. Otherwise, we'll just have to agree to disagree on this one!

  10. gLaSsHoUsE, The fat McDonalds uses to fry its french fries is polyunsaturated vegetable oil. It becomes rancid after being fried over and over which is why its so bad for our health. Saturated fat is not the culprit behind our health crisis today,e ven though many want to blame it on saturated fat. Processed food, sugar and other garbage that is being marketed to us as food is the real problem. fat in milk (saturated) is good for us.

  11. As far as the Gary Taubes article is concerned, one must remember that Gary Taubes is a JOURNALIST. He does not have a medical or nutrition background. We need to remember to look at the actual research and data, versus someone’s slanted opinion on how they are interpreting the research.
    Also, as far as the saturated fat in milk goes... I obviously realize that saturated fat is "natural" etc (i.e. unlike most processed and chemically-altered trans fats) but we cannot make a blanket statement that saturated fats are "good for us." Saturated fat, in excess, can lead to heart disease. Period. Whether you are eating other processed foods in your diet or not. Saturated fat can be incorporated into the diet as long as it is a) not excessive and b) the diet is not also laden with processed fats and trans fats.

  12. @Anonymous the third: I wrote a post partly in your honor. You can find it here:

  13. Eat healthy, eat fresh seafood Prepared to perfection, fresh seafood can make you want to be on a seafood diet for ever. Seafood is more healthy for you than eating red or white meats that contain lots of fats.

  14. This is very good facility are provided. i am happy. this are three my faviroate cheese,thosada,Mecroni my favirote. ok then supose u are intrsted in like fish then click this event.

  15. My daughter was buying lunch every day for the last school year, because it was convenient for me and we qualified for free lunch. As a result of her eating the school lunch, she had frequent stomach aches and bed-wetting issues. At the beginning of the summer, we switched over to raw milk and home-cooked meals. She no longer has stomach issues or bed-wetting issues. No more school lunches, at least for us. Something definitely needs to change with the school lunch program. I'm just not sure where to start.

  16. @ Sarah, starting is the hard part. If you watched Jamie Oliver's food revolution you know that a lot of what the school do is mandated by the federal government, so that makes it harder to make changes on a local level. I feel that the place to start for me is to take care of my kids and make sure I feed them a healthy lunch. But that's easier said than done if you can't afford it!

  17. Simply Real;

    I travel and am in school cafeteria (restaurants) several times a week through out the western United States. Over all there is a high standard on the nutrition and taste categories of food that is served in our schools.

    The staff that serve our students are some of the most impressive people in any industry anywhere. Most of them serve/work in school nutrition simply because they care about students.

    Take a look at the School Nutrition Association, California School Nutrition Association, and Bell Tasty Foods web Sites to gain a greater appreciation and knowledge of the food that is served to the students of America.