Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Lunchbox Patdown

An article on Huffington Post today described a recent incident where a 4-year old's lunch was inspected by the USDA and deemed "not nutritious enough" forcing the child to eat school supplied chicken nuggets instead.

I want to rant, really I do. And, doing so may not further the conversation so let's look at this for a moment. A few thoughts:

  1. Does anyone at the USDA actually have children? (Yes, wee rant there). Every parent knows our kids go through weird food phases. I don't care how health conscious, organic, local-focused and wealthy you are, sometimes your kids will only eat one thing and one thing only. My son, now 23, went through a "ham sandwich" phase which actually didn't include any ham. White bread and mayonnaise. I wasn't happy about it, but I used it as a teaching moment (you can have your ham sandwich when you eat these banana slices - come on parents, half the job comes down to these moments). 
  2. Did we need another way to further the phobia that "Government People Are Bad?" We already malign the people who work at the TSA, many teachers are not respected and police? In some urban areas, they are feared. Apparently we're not getting to kids early enough to teach them to fear public servants, now we have to take a 4-year old's lunch away? That poor little girl. 
  3. USDA Meal Guidelines are not right for everyone. I hate to be the one to break it to you, but following the USDA guidelines would make a fair number of Americans sick. Dairy (in the form of  overly processed milk from cows dining on drugs and hormones), gluten run amok, GMO grains? Our kids (and we) deserve better.
  4. Cheap does not equal good. The food supplied to school cafeteria's is done by through the award of competitive contracts. Low cost almost always wins. The people who win these contracts are incentivized to deliver the cheapest food that meets the minimum USDA guidelines. Are our kids eating sustainably raised, grass fed beef? Chickens who graze on bugs? No! They are eating the worst of the worst of the processed food system. The food is cheap and pumped with chemicals so it lasts a long time on a shelf. As a side note... there is a company, Revolution Foods, who are focused on doing better. There may be others I'm unaware of, please share if you know of them.
I could go on... but you get the idea. To round out the discussion, let's consider one defense of the idea of inspecting brought from home lunches: Some lunches brought from home are actually worse than what the cafeteria provides. I don't have data or numbers, but having been a parent and visiting during lunchtime, I can assure you some kids have soda and a snack cake in their lunchbox. 

What are we to do? Let's start with education! I know! A crazy idea considering we are talking about our schools here. Unfortunately, we have many parents and many kids who really don't know what a nutritious lunch looks like. We have taken much of the food and health education out of our schools in favor of the programs for "No Child Left Behind" so we have an absence of knowledge. How about bringing these classes back (and inviting parents) so we all learn together what makes for healthy eating? How about we recognize that there isn't a one-size-fits-all diet for every person in this country? How about we consider lunch as only one part of a day full of healthy eating? If I've had a big breakfast, I might not want a big lunch. Can we bring some humanity back into this? How about we use lunch as a teaching moment instead of a lunchbox patdown exercise. Just a thought...

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