This past week my kids started school. Neither one of my kids were ready to go to school; our son prefers helping his dad on the farm to sitting in a classroom all day. I think that is pretty typical of little boys. Our daughter on the other hand, normally loves school, but she wasn’t ready to go back this year. I think she just wanted a few more weeks of summer fun in the sun. She spent her summer playing softball and basketball and she wasn’t ready to sit still all day long in school again.
Rachelle’s first day of high school was going to be busy, classes all day, softball practice immediately after school, then homework after watching her brother’s football practice. For Conner, he had classes all day too, an hour on the school bus, homework and then off to football practice at 5:30.
When I dropped Conner off at football I also picked up Rachelle from softball. I was expecting to see her smiling face but instead I had a grump! I asked her why she was in such a sour mood and her response was, “I’m starving mom, I have a headache from not eating and my stomach has growled since 6th hour. I need food, please can you take me to get something to eat?” My first response was, “calm down a minute, didn’t you eat lunch today?” This is when she and about three of her friends informed me about the changes to the new school lunch program. So I did what any mom would do, I drove 3 miles into town versus 16 miles to get home from the school to find my daughter food. We needed something quick and since our town has no fast food joints, we hit the grocery store to find a snack. Then we stocked up on school lunch supplies for the next day and headed back to Conner’s football practice.
I wanted to learn more about the school lunch changes the kids were telling me about because I was sure they were mistaken. The kids were telling me they were being served smaller portions of food, very little meat, and their lunch consisted mainly of fruits and veggies. Ranch dressing and ketchup would only be served if it was on the menu and it would be served by the cooks to ensure portion control, the students could not help themselves. I figured the fruit and veggie part was accurate but I couldn’t believe the portion size was smaller and that condiments were being restricted. Last year there was also peanut butter and bread available for the kids if they were still hungry, that is now gone. So I started looking around on the internet and I found this website. I learned the USDA has made some changes to the school hot lunch program in an effort to encourage kids to eat healthier and to fight childhood obesity. I am in favor of kids eating healthy, and I think they should eat fruits and vegetables.
What I don’t agree with though is their “one size fits all” style of feeding kids. According to the USDA meal pattern a kindergarten student who is 5 years old will receive the same amount of food as my 11 year old son who is in the 5th grade. I remember what my son ate as a kindergarten student, he didn’t eat very much. If he ate half of a peanut butter sandwich he was full. What really disturbed me was seeing that my high school student would only receive approximately 10-12 oz. of protein a week. No wonder she was starving when I picked her up. How is restricting her protein going to help nourish an athlete’s active body all day long until after games or practices? Not to mention meat promotes healthy brain development and contains zinc, iron, choline, and vitamin B, all essential for a healthy body.
That night I was telling Kevin about what was going on. He tossed the newspaper to me and said, “read the school board minutes, it gets better.” I read in the school board minutes that our school was going to be required to follow these new USDA guidelines or they would lose their funding for the lunch program from the government. So our school’s hands are tied, they can’t fix this. We live in a very rural community and the majority of our students receive free and reduced price lunches. For some kids, the best meal they may get is at school. We can’t afford to lose the government funding. I worry though that the kids who need these meals the most, are the ones being hurt the hardest.
The kids aren’t the only ones impacted, what about the teachers? How are they supposed to teach children who are hungry? What about the boys on the football team? These boys are tall and muscular and very active. They need more calories a day than a student does who is not getting physical exercise.
What about the cheerleaders and softball girls or the cross country runners who spend two hours a day doing physical training? What about their nutritional needs? Why are we feeding our kids a one size fits all meal plan?
I have read the USDA sample lunch menu, I am not a dietician but I don’t think this menu is designed for the kids who are receiving high levels of physical activity like my daughter. I know my daughter; she will not eat jicoma or green pepper strips as the USDA suggests. (She does enjoy eating lima beans, peas, green beans, carrots, asparagus, cauliflower and broccoli with her lean meat at meals though.)
I am all for healthy eating, don’t get me wrong, but I have a problem with my growing daughter who is very active in sports coming home from school starving and having headaches from not eating enough. She cannot learn if she is hungry and I am sending her to school to learn. Promoting healthy eating is great but most kids like to eat their raw vegetables with ranch dressing. I know that may not be the recommended choice but reduced fat dressing will help. Restricting the dressing though will not encourage the kids to eat the vegetables; it will only lead to more waste in the dumpster once the recommended serving of ranch dressing is gone.
In my opinion, we need to encourage more exercise for our students along with eating healthy. Instead of restricting food groups, we need to encourage our kids to get up and exercise. When I was a kid we had PE every day. My son only has PE a couple days a week. I had multiple recesses too but today’s kids are having that restricted as well to meet other learning requirements. Last year, Conner averaged having an hour of homework at night, which limited his ability to go outside and play after school. I’m lucky though, my kids love to be outside on the farm with their dad and me. They prefer that to watching TV or playing a video game. There are many kids who are not like that though.
I do not know what the solution is to this new USDA lunch program, so for me, I am sending my kids a sack lunch to school so I know they don’t go hungry. I am also going to contact my Congressmen and Senators and let them hear my concerns. Hopefully through open communication a solution will be found so our kids are not receiving a one size fits all lunch program. Until then though, my kids will be brown bagging it.
Update: It has been recommended we also send our letters to
Undersecretary of Food & Nutrition Services Kevin Concannon 1400 Independence Ave, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250
Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack 1400 Independence Ave, S.W. Washington, D.C. 20250
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