With the premier of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution series on TV (which I begrudgingly watched with Mr Chiots) there’s been a flurry of posting on the internet about the school lunch program and the health of the children in this country. I have very strong opinions about this matter, and food in general. Since we spent the month of March focusing on Real Food I thought this might be a good time for us to discuss the feeding of our children.
Who’s responsible for the nutrition and feeding of children?
the government? the state? the community? the school? the parents?
photo courtesy of al la corey on Flickr
What Is the National School Lunch Program?
According to the USDA website: The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.
A Little History of the School Lunch Program
The school lunch program was started by Harry S. Truman in 1946 for reasons of “National Security”. He read a study that said many soldiers that wanted to join the armed services for WWII were denied due to medical issue caused by malnutrition in childhood (note: my grandpa was rejected because he was double jointed in his elbows). The school lunch program was expanded by Lydon Johnson to include breakfasts in 1966 and summer lunches in 1968.
Since its inception, the school lunch/meals programs have become available in more than 98,800 schools. The 2004/05 school year reported that over 9.2 million children participated in the breakfast and lunch programs; and as many as 1.6 million children took advantage of the summer meals program that same year. *
What were school kids lunches like before school lunch programs?
What did children bring for school lunch in the 19th century? History books tell us their meals were usually composed of leftovers from the previous day. This means Italian, Irish, Swedish, Jewish and German immigrant schoolchildren likely consumed very different foods for lunch. A century later, ample evidence reveals home-packed lunches still reflected family heritage and economic status. The classic “American melting pot” school lunch of sandwich, fruit, dessert & drink was promoted by the same folks who worked hard to establish school lunch programs.
Possible “melting pot-type” school lunches based on period cookbooks are these:
1. Ham salad (or just plain ham) on whole wheat, graham crackers, fruit (apple, grapes, strawberries)
2. Chicken breast on roll, deviled eggs, carrot sticks & celery curls, ginger snaps or ginger bread
3. Corn bread & jelly, beef jerky, dried cranberries or raisins, popcorn balls
4. Cornish pasty (small portable pie filled with meat & vegetables), fruit (plums, pears, cherries), sugar cookies
5. Deviled ham (Underwood Company began in 1869) & soda crackers/saltines, canned fruit (peaches, pears), muffin (blueberry, apple, cranberry) **
What were school lunches like when they were first being introduced?
School lunch menu in Philadelphia in 1917
Monday: Baked beans and roll, Cocoa or milk, crackers or ice cream
Tuesday: Vegetable soup and roll, Cocoa or milk, crackers or ice cream
Wednesday: Creamed beef on toast and roll, Cocoa or milk, crackers or ice cream
Thursday: Macaroni with tomato sauce and roll, Cocoa or milk, crackers or ice cream
Friday: Creamed salmon and roll, Cocoa or milk, crackers or ice cream**
photo courtesy of Writing Program PTW on Flickr
So, the school lunch program is providing “nutritionally balanced” meals to our kids? really? I remember school lunches, I rarely ate them and I remember not liking them and knowing they were unhealthy. We packed our lunches because my parents knew school lunches weren’t healthy. Our lunches were simple and delicious, sandwiches on whole grain bread, carrot sticks, apples, fruit, cheese, etc. Visit the Fed Up With Lunch blog to see what school lunches actually look like.
I believe it’s a parent’s responsibility to feed their children healthy food. My parents were always proactive about keeping us healthy and about providing good food for us. We didn’t have tons of toys or tons of clothes, but we had good food and we spent a lot of time being active. Because my parents made the effort to make sure we had healthy childhoods my brother and sister and I have the blessing of being healthy adults. Sadly in our society many don’t see fast food and junk food as unhealthy (or they just don’t want to admit it since they consume so much of it). I had a friend recently who was taking her son to checkup. The son happened to mention that he was going to start drinking raw milk. The doctor gave my friend a lecture about the dangers of raw milk and how it wasn’t good for kids. This is very sad, especially coming from a doctor, because if the boy had said he was excited that his mom was going to take him to McDonald’s after the appointment the doctor would have said nothing about that.
It’s interesting to me that many people will make sure their children wear their bicycle helmets, but don’t make them eat any vegetables. Sure our children may be emotionally happy, have tons of toys, and access to health care, but if we’re not nourishing them properly what kind of future will they have? This doesn’t just affect the lives of our children but it affects the future of our country and society. These children are the future adults/leaders/parents of our country and we’re not doing a very good job of equipping them with basic health so they can enjoy a prosperous future. It’s one thing if you don’t want to eat healthfully yourself as an adult, but when you don’t nourish your children well you’re setting them up for a grim future.
Who’s responsibility do you think a child’s nutrition is?