Finally, some exciting news about school lunches!
The moment I heard that Congress planned to use the tomato sauce in pizza to count it as a vegetable in public school lunches (hence the name of this blog) cemented my interest in food injustice and the nutrition crisis that the modern, developed world faces.
USA Today reported this week on a shift toward balancing marketability with health in planning the menus of school lunches. The piece focuses on Northern Virginia as a case study: schools have been forced to factor new USDA minimum nutritional standards into the food they offer. Districts are now obligated to “limit the calories that students consume, phase in whole grains, gradually lower sodium levels, and offer at least one fruit or vegetable per meal” (Doering, “Schools hungry to improve taste, nutrition of lunches”).
So what could be bad? The director of school food and nutrition services in this county, Serena Suthers, brings up the point that kids are picky eaters and therefore offering healthy alternatives might be financially unwise. To me, this seems like a chicken-and-egg argument. Children grow accustomed to eating in the same way as any other aspect of acculturation: they adapt to their surroundings and learn behaviors from others. True, offering broccoli in a school cafeteria won’t erase cravings for candy and french fries. But change has to start somewhere, and investing in exposure to healthy alternatives and normal portion sizes is certainly a step forward. It’s far more important to think about the long-term benefits that could come with offering more expensive options like frozen vegetables, low-fat dairy produts, and fruit cups.
So what changes can we expect to see? Will kids be fed salad and apple slices?
Doering writes, “An example of a typical elementary school lunch before the new standards had cheese pizza, canned pineapple, tater tots and low fat chocolate milk. Today it would be replaced by whole wheat cheese pizza, baked sweet potato fries, grape tomatoes, applesauce and low fat milk” (Doering, “Schools hungry to improve taste, nutrition of lunches”). As a former kid myself, it’s hard for me to believe that an improved menu like that would meet a lot of resistance. This increase in federal regulation seems like a gateway to taking obesity seriously and reexamining American priorities surrounding food.
Doering, Christopher. “Schools hungry to improve taste, nutrition of lunches.” USA Today 5 April 2013
Jalonick, Mary Clare. “Pizza is a vegetable? Congress says yes.” NBC News15 November 2011
Image taken from http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/02/20/slowing-down-school-lunch/