As a mother of three school-aged children, I was extremely excited when I was invited to attend the Annual National Conference this year in San Antonio, Texas as a guest of the School Nutrition Association. In its 70th year, this conference is geared towards school nutrition professionals, industry members and food service professionals that work with schools. Along with over 6,500 attendees, I was able to get a first hand look at the behind the scenes of a school lunch menu.
I’ll be honest and admit that at times I’ve wondered why certain items were on the school lunch menu. I’ll also be honest and admit that at times I’ve wondered why we aren’t doing more to ensure that there is less waste and more variety in the lunch line. At times I’ve been critical as I’ve watched children taste the school food and promptly spit it out.
Attending this conference has opened my eyes to the red tape, the policies, and the guidelines that must be followed when creating a school lunch menu.
Y’all, it’s not easy.
Behind the Scenes of a School Lunch Menu
The men and women that work every day to ensure that our children are getting the best lunch within the given perimeters are doing the best they can. They don’t do this job for the recognition; they do it because they truly care about our children. However, the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has made their job even harder! The policy that has been set, at its core is all about healthy child nutrition programs. But what it doesn’t account for is what parents are or are not already doing at home.
We can’t send our children to school and expect the school to do what we as parents should be doing at home. We have to set healthy guidelines at home so that when our children arrive at the school lunch line, they’re not turned off by the healthy, food choices.
I was surprised to learn that the school districts are given funds once a year and that has to last them the entire year. If an oven breaks, it comes out of the money they are allotted each year. If the cafeteria needs new appliances so that they can serve our children healthier meals, again, it comes out of those funds. And I think you would be surprised to find out how much your child’s district is getting.
But back to the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act for a moment. At the core of what it is, it’s good. All children, regardless of economic standing, should be given a healthy lunch when they purchase a school meal. Whether the parent is paying full price, or the child is given a free meal thanks to government funding, all school lunches should be healthy.
But that is where the lines get a little crossed. Instead of giving our children full fat milk, they’re serving fat-free sugar water instead. And that’s just one example. To be completely honest, the school lunch line is a little underwhelming. All because of a policy that was designed to make school lunches healthier.
While I agree that there needed to be some reform (I remember being able to order cheese fries at lunch in high school), I think we’ve created a program that has created more waste and more hungry kiddos.
If you don’t believe me, visit your child’s school during lunch time. Watch how much goes into the trash. Watch the students eat one of two options off their trays and throw the remainder away.
Kids want color. They want flavor. They want something familiar.
But with the policy laid out, if schools want reimbursement from the government, they have to abide by their stringent guidelines. And lets face it. The school nutrition department would not survive without government funding. It just wouldn’t.
But that’s what where the Annual National Conference comes in to play. It brings school nutrition staff together with food service professionals to bring better choices into our schools. Parents want better choices. The students want better choices. And believe it or not, your school nutrition staff want better choices, too!
So what do we do as parents?
We start at home by teaching our children the importance of food and the effects it has on the body.
We continue to offer healthy fruits and vegetables to our children at home.
We reach out to our school nutrition staff.
We reach out to our legislators.
We try to become part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
Next time you get aggravated at the school lunch menu, search out the guidelines that have to be followed. It’s a miracle that with the limited amount of funding, and the strict guidelines, that the school’s nutrition staff is able to create a menu at all.