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Pizza: The New Veggie in a Healthy School Lunch?

Image via Flickr Creative Commons/Molly Elliot

Quick quiz!

Question one. How many vegetables or whole grains would you like in healthy school lunches for your kids?

Question two. Does pizza count as a healthy vegetable?  What about french fries?

Question three. How do you feel about Congress being more worried about concerns of industry lobbyists over children’s health?

These aren’t hypotheticals.  If some lawmakers in Congress get their way, pizza soon will be considered a healthy vegetable option even if there aren’t any veggie toppings underneath that mozzarella.  As part of the ongoing budget fight in Washington, proposed federal guidelines that would get more healthy fruit and vegetable options to our kids in their school lunches would be shelved in favor of keeping certain food industry organizations and lobbyists happy.  And if some of those lawmakers start channeling their inner Ronald Reagan,  ketchup on those fries will give you a two-fer in the veggie department!

Trust me, I don’t have anything against pizza.  Just ask the delivery guy I called the other night.  He already knew our address before I told him.  Ouch.

But as we are battling a time of overwhelming childhood obesity does it really make sense to cut corners on the dollars we spend on the lunches our children are served five days a week?  Twelve and a half million American school kids are overweight — do we really want to pretend that it doesn’t matter if limited lunch options include salty fries or pepperoni pizza each day?

Many people argue that Uncle Sam shouldn’t be in the business of deciding what our kids eat and that if parents don’t like those subsidized school lunches, they should pack their children something better from home.  But the problem is this — for a lot of families it’s not that easy.  School lunches are pretty inexpensive compared to the cost of buying fruits and vegetables or more other nutritious options, especially for families who live in areas without one of of those large chain food stores.  And many children who eat those lunches qualify to get them for free because their parents’ incomes are so low.  Stop and think just how much it actually costs to pack something like a turkey sandwich on whole wheat bread with some carrots or an apple when you’re living on food stamps.

So why isn’t Congress more concerned about children’s healthy food choices as a way to lower the obesity epidemic or to give them the right nutrition so they can focus and really learn in school?  It shouldn’t come as a surprise that the push behind the “pizza and fries are vegetables” effort comes from the pizza and potato lobbies. Serving children healthier options would be “overly burdensome and  [too] costly,” according to backers of the plan.

Those who are pushing these budget-cutting efforts say it will save your tax dollars.   That might be true in the short run, but as more and more American kids become overweight because of limited access to healthy food choices, maybe we should be asking ourselves what the cost to us all will be twenty or thirty years down the road, when overweight children become obese adults with a myriad of health issues that will cost us even more, and whether we want food industry lobbyists calling the shots on lunch menus.

So which do you prefer — Uncle Sam as pizza pusher or member of the veggie police?

Joanne Bamberger writes the blog PunditMom, and is the author of Mothers of Intention: How Women and Social Media are Revolutionizing Politics in America (on sale now at Amazon!), a bipartisan look at how women online are changing the world.

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