Friday, September 18, 2009

School Lunch - 1988 and Today

When I started my senior year of high school, I decided that I would buy school lunch every day so that I could prepare myself for the institutional food that was coming my way when I left for college the next year. Somehow, I convinced my friends to join me in this masochistic plan. And somehow, I remembered that we actually took a picture of our last school lunch ever. There is proof - the back of this photo is stamped June 1988 (remember when we used to get film developed and the date was stamped on the back!) So here we were, big hair, big sweatshirts, big smiles, all enjoying our cardboard pizza. Yum!

My son started first grade last week which means that he can now choose to eat school lunch if he wants to. Amazingly, he has not asked to do so. I am overjoyed. In perusing the school lunch menu, I see only one lunch that might possibly live up to my standards for a healthy lunch: On September 29th, they are serving a grilled cheese sandwich, yogurt cup, and baby carrots with dip. Not bad. But there literally is no other day in September that I would want my son to buy lunch. Not one. Here are some of the options:
Stuffed Crust Pizza Dippers
Chicken Nuggets with Baked Tostito Scoops and Nacho Cheese
Macaroni & Cheese
French Toast Sticks, Hash Brown Patty, Sausage (yes, for lunch!)
Cheeseburger on a bun with potato puffs
Pizza Party (of course - I wonder if it is the same cardboard pizza?)

So there's our school lunch menu for first graders. And we wonder why according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 16 percent of all children in the country are overweight or obese? Now, my school offers an online program where I can see what my child chose to eat for lunch. Cool, but look at the less-than-stellar choices!

Rhode Island (the state in which I was born and raised and in which I feel I have dual-citizenship at times!) has implemented strict new guidelines for school lunches.
Last Sunday's Providence Journal featured a great article outlining the new program. Among the changes: more fruits and veggies, beans or legumes at least once a week, no white bread or flour, only whole wheat. The new regulations also restrict sodium - not easy to do. I'd love to hear from my Rhode Island readers. How are your kids liking the new program?

Well, thankfully, my son is happy to bring his Transformers lunchbox filled with healthy things - for now. And since I know the NuVal scores on lots of foods, I can be sure to keep packing it well. Long term, NuVal hopes to be the universal standard nutritional scoring system in the country. And we hope to provide nutritional guidance wherever food is eaten - even in the school cafeteria. NuVal is being recognized by journalists, bloggers, doctors and dietitians for its objectivity and independence and its ease of use. It is an amazing system.

To all my readers? Do your kids buy lunch at school? What do you do to make sure they are making nutritious choices?


  1. I sometimes marvel at what I choked down for school lunch. Sometimes I even enjoyed it!

    Letting kids eat bad school lunches is a great opportunity to teach them about eating foods in proportion to their healthful benefits. So if your son does decide he wants school lunch, I strongly recommend you let him have one or two per week. He's gonna have to learn to eat in the real world eventually. What better way than to start teaching him how? Just remember to talk to him and tell him why he can't eat it every day.

    ~Changing the conversation from nutrition to habits.~

  2. I'm not a parent (yet), but I pack healthy lunches daily! A personal favorite: almond butter and apple on wheat bread - yum! I can't get enough reduced fat string cheese, either. I also like making tuna salad and rather than throwing it on bread, serve with whole grain crackers. Kids love cracker sandwiches, too!

    Melissa, thank you for linking my blog to your blog - I'm flattered! NuVal sounds like a wonderful system which can benefit consumers invaluably. I can't wait to see it expand and gain speed in fighting the obesity epidemic.

    Keep up the great work and writing!


  3. That looks like Jersey hair to me.....
    I actual had some really good lunches in my high school. We had a greek woman cooking and boy did we eat well. Gryos, great tossed salads & pasta salads, fresh made sandwiches.I was very lucky my senior year.
    But my husband and I bring lunches every day. Not only to eat better but because it can get so costly.
    That's great that you are getting good reviews. Keep up the great blogging!

  4. When I was in High School we has the option of McDonalds or Taco Bell or the usual bad cafeteria food, and that was only 13 yesrs ago. Completely disappointing. I now make my boyfriend and myself homemade lunches consisting of mostly veggies everyday. It prevents the trip to the vending machine, or the sandwich shop nearby.

  5. When I was in High School we has the option of McDonalds or Taco Bell or the usual bad cafeteria food, and that was only 13 yesrs ago. Completely disappointing. I now make my boyfriend and myself homemade lunches consisting of mostly veggies everyday. It prevents the trip to the vending machine, or the sandwich shop nearby.

  6. I'm pretty sure I drank Tab (diet soda) and ate a pack of cheese and crackers every day for lunch when I was in high school.

    If I had kids I would send them to school with a balanced meal...a protein, whole grains, vegetables and/or fruit.

    If I knew then what I know now!

  7. I let my kids order school lunches a few times a daughter just had a salad and the week before a wrap with fruit. Not all school lunches are horrible, but there are some options that are. Everything in moderation....
    Oh and when they get older you may pack the hummus and carrots and apples and organic juice but if all their friends are eating fries and hot dogs... guess what wins out?

  8. I love the picture...boy did that take me back to exactly the same hair style (maybe even bigger)
    My child is in 2nd grade and he takes his own lunch yours he doesn't ask to buy lunch. I talk with my kids about food and there nutritional value quite a bit. When they were younger it was whether food was considered "growing food" aka healthy or "non growing food" aka unhealthy. Now that they are older I talk in more detail...e.g.. Vit C to fight germs...protien to build muscle..etc. I also feel kids tend to the same foods you enjoy so being a good example helps guide their choices to the healthier ones.
    I'm also a firm believer in moderation..knowing they will shortly be making their own choices and not making "non growing food" such a big deal and mystery.

  9. I live in TX and am pretty impressed with my daughters elementary school lunch choices. Every day there are two entre options, and then they choose 2 of 3 side dishes and a milk. They also always have a daily vegetarian entre.

    Some of the entre choices include: fruit bowl with graham crakers or chicken nuggets; taco salad or hot ham and cheese bagel; salisbury steak with mashed potatoes or chicken and gravy over potatoes; hamburger or vegetable egg roll with panda rice; cheese pizza or baked ziti with beef.

    The side dishes include things like: various fruits, broccoli and tomato salad, mixed veggies, corn on the cobb, jello, beans, zucchini with ranch dip, peas.

    Of course they have days where niether option seems that great but over all they seem to do well.

  10. When my children were growing up I made my own yogurt overnight. The kids (now adults) still talk about that. And we would put local honey on the yogurt with fresh picked strawberries. As I read this blog, I wonder now that I am older, why did I eat those fried onion rings they had in the cafeteria for lunch today ?????
    Hmmmmmm ....will have to get back to those healthier ways !

  11. I've got a first grader as well and I've allowed her to get a lunch once or twice a week since she immediately showed an interest. Of course she always goes for the hot dogs and french fries (what can I expect for $2.50??) because she loves them and we rarely have them. I kind of think of it like cake; it's not so bad in moderation.
    It is very very sad that school lunch has to be such junk. Hopefully all the media attention will change things sooner rather than later.