Does Your Child Fit the ‘One Size Fits All’ Lunch Program?

Rachelle & Conner ready for the 2012 school year!

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.

Rachelle sliding into home, she and her friends are all active in sports all year long.

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.

Kevin teaching Conner how to care for a premature calf. Conner walks many miles on our farm following in his dad’s footsteps.

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

Related Blog Posts by Moms who are concerned:

Pinke Post:  School Lunch Solutions

Wagfarms: School Lunch Not the Key to Obesity

Wagfarms: School Lunch & Obesity Part 2

Life on a Kansas Cattle Ranch:  School Lunch is Not Making Our Kids Fat

School Lunch Soapbox – from a mom and former teacher.  (Great information and a heartbreaking story).

About Chris Chinn

My husband, Kevin, and I are 5th generation farmers. We live on our family hog farm in Missouri with our two children. Our dream is that our children will have the opportunity be the 6th generation of farmers in our family.
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31 Responses to Does Your Child Fit the ‘One Size Fits All’ Lunch Program?

  1. Maddee says:

    Interesting, I always enjoy your blogs, and I have seen a few other tidbits about the new lunch program throughout social media. Thank you for the resources.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      Thanks Maddee. I know there are obesity issues with kids but this system just seems wrong. For kids that might be over-weight, it’s up to the child, the parents and the doctor to decide the best nutrition plan for that child. I have also seen ‘chubby’ kids grow 3 inches in a school year, some kids grow out before they grow up. I hate to see our lunches limited when we need to be encouraging kids to not only eat healthy but also get plenty of exercise. Our school is small so most of our students play at least 2 or 3 sports. I know larger schools have more students and not every child plays a sport so they see reducing lunches as an alternative. I just don’t think we need a one size fits all solution to childhood obesity. It’s hard enough to be a kid, and it’s even harder to be the kid who isn’t picture perfect small.

  2. I just had the exact same conversation with my children and husband a few days ago. We had no idea these changes were taking place until my oldest daughter came home just appalled at the amount of food they are getting now. They have to have two lunch staff “stand guard” at the condiment table to make sure that each student only received one “pump” of ketchup or ranch dressing. As you stated, I am also very concerned about the amount of calories given to middle school and high school athletes. According to many sources, an athlete may need to consume up to 2,000 more calories per day than a non-athlete. Our family plans on brown-bagging it as much as possible as well.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      I saw that same information Lisa regarding calories needed for athletes. I just pray we don’t have a lot of sports injuries this year because part of training for athletes includes proper nutrition.

  3. Pingback: School lunch: NOT the key to obesity | Wag'n Tales

  4. The Queen says:

    Because my DiL works at our school, we started hearing about these changes several months ago. If you want to get our grandchildren really going, just bring up “school lunches”! They told me that thanks to a certain “lady with power” they will no longer be having their favorite lunch items…Chicken Fried Steak and mashed potatoes. They are NOT happy. Not happy at all. And the portion issue has come up with DiL inserting that she may have to start sending food along with the boys to get them through the day. Eight of our ten grands are all in grade school but they can out eat most adults! They start the day early by climbing on a bus and end the day around 4 by climbing off the same bus. In other words, like probably all of your children…it’s a long day!

    These changes in the school lunch program is contrary to the usual banter about “we need to feed The Children” as for some children, this the ONLY real food they may get in a day’s time. For the life of me, I don’t know where these “experts” get their information. I’m betting THEY wouldn’t put up with such when it comes to their own meals.

    • Chris Chinn says:

      I agree, every child has a different metabolism and some kids require more calories than others. I completely understand the need to teach kids what healthy meals look like but each child has a different activity level and therefore they have different nutritional requirements. And some kids are just picky eaters, my son is one of them. There are certain foods he won’t eat. It doesn’t matter how many times I offer them to him, each time he tries the food he vomits. He really tries to eat it but he just cannot swallow it, it just won’t stay down. Our pediatrician tells me his taste buds will change every 7 years and to not lose sleep over it. So in some cases, you can lead the horse to water but you can’t make him drink. There are so many different situations out here today that this one size fits all lunch plan just doesn’t make sense.

  5. The Queen says:

    Wonder if we ALL write our congressmen about this if anything might come of it? I mean, they changed all of this w/o input from those who were affected by these goofy regulations. The next thing you know, they’ll be trying to regulate “dust”…wait. Too late. Already been tried.

    Thanks for posting this. I had considered a piece on it but decided granny needed to keep out of the fray. You wouldn’t believe what happened when I expressed my views about chicken at my blog. Sheesh. 🙂 Love your blog and am now off to hunt up senator and reps’ addresses!!!!!!

  6. Diane says:

    I couldn’t agree more. My kids have not started school yet however I have been on face book and seen the comments from friends of kids that have and so my kids and I went school lunch shopping. My oldest is also active in cheerleading and basketball and often time for a game they leave before school even gets out so I found myself last year packing a lunch for the bus ride as well. I also agree that childhood obesity does not start with school lunches but with the way kids eat at home as this is where they learn their habits. Maybe instead of restricting what our kids eat in school the government should limit those who receive foodstamps to meat and potatoes not so much chips a hoy and cake. But this is just my opinion. I do think it’s an excellent idea to bring up to the congress men and women I applaud and thank you for doing so.

  7. Pingback: Are All Children The Same? Why Are Lunches? « Slow Money Farm – Life, Farm, Food

  8. I agree Chris, wait till your son is a teenage boy, playing football, my two sons wouldn’t ever survive on school lunches, before and certainly not now, we do take lunch and there’s great ideas everywhere for suggestions on adding variety and making helathy choices, thanks for posting this, I plan to share it with others!

  9. Al says:

    I am now 80 and I eat about what I ate in the first grade. By the time I was in Jr. High, my consumption was at least 7 times that amount and I was skinny, with ribs sticking out. When I went to college I ate all the leftover spuds at each meal trying to gain weight until I got the nickname “Spuds”. By 35 I was cutting down. By 55 I was over weight. Now at 80 I am struggling to stay less than 20 pounds over my target. Do you think I fit any profile? Try hospital food if you want to see a bad diet. I sent my kids to school with their own lunch because not only was the food unfit, but they were not allowed to “talk” during the lunch period. That was over 40 years ago.

  10. DebbieLB says:

    Let’s take this convo to the folks who can make a change. According to my congressmen, we should send 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

  11. Pingback: Does your child fit the 'one size fits all' lunch program? - Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Conservatives, Liberals, Third Parties, Left-Wing, Right-Wing, Congress, President - City-Data Forum

  12. Pingback: Where’s the Beef? New 2012 School Menus are Lean on Meat | everyday epistle

  13. doverjoyed says:

    Chris, I love your blog. It is personal and very informative. I am glad to see that your family is doing well and that you have found a way to share the truths of farm life. I look forward to reading more. – Tera Dover

  14. Chris, great post. I think you did a great job of explaining the new school lunch program and I hope everyone contacts USDA.

    Interesting thing, is at this year’s National 4-H Conference in Washington DC the 4-Hers were given different government programs, researched them and then talked with those involved with the program about how they felt the program was doing. One of the Iowa 4-Hers was a part of the group that talked about Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move campaign and she told me that the 4-Hers decided that this program did not clearly understand what students needed and needed changes.

  15. Sarah says:

    My oldest just started Kindergarten. A few days into school she told me she didn’t need breakfast at home, she had been eating at school. “No problem” I told her, “just make sure you eat the eggs and sausage or bacon, not the other stuff”. “Mom, they don’t have eggs there”. I was certain she was wrong, but decided to investigate. Sure enough, breakfast is a “whole grain” donut with TOAST. Then she has to choose juice OR fruit. Or, like she chose Friday, Smore’s PopTarts. At least she is tells me the truth. So we have now banned her from eating school breakfast. If she is going to just eat crappy poptarts she can do it at home for less than 1.10, and at home she never asks for them, she eats hot breakfast with us. The research about breakfast at school lead to research about lunch at school. And now she is taking her own everyday. Lunch isn’t what it used to be and it is not the right fit for our family. And since my 6 year old is walking a 1/2 mile to and from school each day, plus outside activites, recess, PE, and LEARNING, I think she needs a better balance than USDA is outlining. Interestingly enough, we were all asked to send in a “non-sugary” snack. I assumed this was for the afternoon, no, our school starts at 8:30, the kids have a morning snack (from what I gather this is usually crackers of some kind-after an all startch breakfast), then they have lunch at 11:30, and then dismissal is at 3:30. Oh, and when we send snack we have to send enough for the whole class for a week. I asked about string cheese or yogurt tubes, or apples, grapes, etc. Nope, they cant have anything that requires refrigeration or the school could get in trouble since that would mean it would have to go the the kitchen. And anything that comes out of the kitchen would violate the USDA guidelines. Most of the parents I have spoken with are now sending lunch with their kids. I just wish this was a local decision not a federal one.
    Sorry for the long comment. Thanks for your great post.

  16. Hey Chris – I asked Secretary Vilsack about your concerns during a media availability at the Farm Progress Show. Thought you might be interested to hear what he had to say –

  17. Pingback: Fat kids, big government or lazy parents? | Michele Payn-Knoper

  18. carrielt says:

    My sister-in-law is the dietitian of a large school district in the South West Kansas and this has been a horrible experience for her! She has a master’s degree in nutrition and does meal plans every day, yet she can’t keep up with the new changes. All summer she was dreading having to go through all the new rules with her employees. How is she supposed to teach her employees this new system when she herself is having a hard time grasping it. And since it’s something she doesn’t believe in it’s even harder. Like you she has two hungry athletes who need all the calories they can get. She has no idea how small schools without a dietitian can do it. She was telling us pickles aren’t allowed because they contain too much sodium. Okay whatever, but then potatoes were going to be removed from the menu as well….until the potato industry got into it and now potatoes are just fine. Who knew there would be politics in school lunches as well. Pretty sad. To me school lunches were bad the way they were then to do this kind of things makes it even worse! Very happy I’m not in school but I sure feel for the students these days!

    • Chris Chinn says:

      Carrielt – I sympathize with your sister, I know this has to be a nightmare for her. I visited with my local school lunch personnel the other day and they were really having a hard time getting all of the food preparation done in the same amount of hours as last year. They are not allowed more kitchen staff or hours. The kitchen now has to prepare TWO different meals, one for grades 6 – 8, and another meal for grades 9 – 12. Due to the calorie limits being different, they can no longer feed both age groups the same meal. That means when they make rolls, the younger kids can only have a 1 ounce roll while the high school gets a 2 ounce roll. And EVERYTHING has to be weighed they told me. We really need common sense back in this program.

      • carrielt says:

        That is so right!!! Common sense goes a long way and I think this country would be a lot better off if our “leaders” used common sense!

  19. Pingback: Bringing the School Lunch Debate to Social Media | Around the Farm

  20. Hayley Skinner says:

    I agree with you 100%. My 10th Grader was very upset when he purchased his lunch today and was charged more because he did not pick their canned fruit over his apple in his bag. He finally took it and threw it in the garbage in front of them. That makes no sense. They should set up food pantry’s in the schools now so we can donate all the wasted food. Like my mom always said…”You can lead a horse to water, but you can make him drink it”. I sure hope our Government is not taking away our freedom of choice. Worse yet my son’s High School is a Closed Campus so he can’t even leave to purchase his own food from the local businesses. How is helping the small business community? I sure wish they would have involved the PARENTS in all theses mandates.
    Hayley, Columbus, MI

  21. Candyce says:

    More reasons to homeschool….the government dosen’t make a good mama!

  22. Pingback: The start of a new school diet…I mean year | Wag'n Tales

  23. Pingback: Create Your Own School Lunch Intervention

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