The people in charge of our school lunches are having a tough week, as this New York Times story points out. First, Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution (which you should be watching, it’s awesome) tackled an elementary school in Huntington, W.Virginia. His attempts to get the lunch ladies to cook healthy foods, and to get the kids to eat it, were simply heartbreaking if you care about feeding kids well. The show depicted second-graders who couldn’t identify a tomato. They’d never seen one. They also didn’t know what potatoes looked like, or that those two things were where ketchup and french fries came from.
Then, a Senate committee cut a proposed $10 million increase in child nutrition programs to $4.5 million. That’s still a historic increase, it should be noted. Among the other provisions of the revised child nutrition bill include boosting the amount schools could get for a lunch (currently $2.68) and increasing funding for organic food and for training cafeteria workers. It would also do things like ban whole and reduced fat milk from school lunches, only permitting skim, and require that kids can get water with their lunches. And it may limit the kind of food-based fundraisers schools can have.
There’s no question that school lunches are atrocious. My daughter’s school is better than many, and this week’s menus were: spaghetti, seasoned green beans, diced pears; hot dog on bun, potato stars, diced pears; pizza, tossed salad, and juice. One of the school food service directors quoted in the article noted that the USDA guidelines for lunches tie their hands in providing more nutritional choices — they have to have so many carbohydrates that it’s more than kids can eat, or burn off if they do manage to finish it.
I think one somewhat throwaway line in the Jamie Oliver show was interesting. The food service director in Huntington was deciding whether or not to let Jamie Oliver stay at the school for another week, and noted that his invoices were twice what they usually see. Perhaps making healthier foods more affordable to schools — and all of us — versus processed crap might truly be the change we need to attack our national eating disorder.