I’ve been making school lunch for my boys for nearly a decade. I don’t like it much and have come up with many (thwarted) plans to get out of the business. They invariably involve having my children make their own meal. But that ideal bumps up against the time-strapped, space-strapped, coffee-deprived reality that is our weekday mornings. Frankly, at this moment in our busy lives, I’d rather make their lunch than create another make-work project for myself. We manage pretty well, all things considered (they eat most of the healthy food we offer in their bags and don’t complain—much).
I am learning to accept the fact that I will likely have children who expect their lunches made for them well into their college years and hope that the other opportunities we’ve created for independence, food appreciation and planning will compensate for this failure.
Despite having acknowledged this many times, despite the fact that What’s for Lunch? is a book about the politics of food rather than a how-to for busy, frustrated parents who must pack a meal for their darlings every day, I have been asked frequently since WFL was published about the secret to making a great lunch. I invariably say I don’t have the answers (see above).
But as I’ve reflected on my personal experience and all the amazing school lunches I learned about in my research, I have started to think I do have a few thoughts on the matter. Let’s call them observations rather than advice. Continue reading
As parents, we’re often told to give our children choices. This will offer kids a sense of power and provide them with the notion that they are capable, independent people able to make good decisions on their own. Attempting to employ this technique when my boys were younger, I would often find myself offering them a choice between what I wanted them to do and something horrible. Say, “Well, daaaarling, if you don’t like dinner, you can make a choice to sit here and eat like a civilized person with the rest of the family or you can choose to go upstairs to your bedroom and be all by yourself while the rest of us enjoy ourselves (and, oh yeah, no dessert).”
I’m not sure that was what the parenting experts meant, but it worked for a while.
I was thinking about it this week when a YouTube video made by high school students in Toronto complaining about the provincial ban on junk food in cafeterias made the rounds.
The gist of the student’s argument—told using a KONY2012-inspired style—was that because of the new “healthier” offerings in the caf, most of the kids are leaving school grounds to eat lunch. School boards, they said, are losing money, and kids are still eating junk. The narrator argued that since adults are always talking about how kids need opportunities to make good choices—why not give high school students a choice in what they eat?
Ed Bruske is one of the low-key heroes of the school lunch reform movement in the U.S. A former Washington Post reporter, now a professional chef, urban gardener, food/urban agriculture educator and active blogger, he’s been fighting against the rising tide of industrial food in schools and his own community for a while now. As part of Parents for Better D.C. School Food, he blogs about his group’s efforts to change school lunch in the Capitol. They’ve had quite a bit of success, though the struggle continues on many fronts.
Concrete Tomato is a YouTube short about Ed’s work in D.C. Check it out here.
Superheros Sal & Ed to the rescue, by Tori W., Vancouver B.C.
There are lots of good people doing lots of amazing things to transform our food system—from kids reclaiming their school lunch from the grease trap to farmers building relationships with low-income communities to chefs volunteering their time in classrooms to engage kids in learning about sustainable agriculture. But superheroes?
That changed recently when Food Secure Canada—the group that just released the very important Resetting the Table: A People’s Food Policy for Canada— came out with a Good Food Heroes comic book, as imagined by Canadian kids from kindergarten to Grade 12.
Featuring such superheroes as Sustainable Stuart, Super Jane (a farmer whose free-range animals live in a solar-powered barn), Supperman and the delightful Sal and Ed (“here to save the day by turning unhealthy fast food joints into healthy, quick and convenient salad bars”!), the book represents the best good food superheroes created by Canadian kids.
They couldn’t have arrived at a better time. Changes to our food system could use a bit of super-human strength and motivation—not to mention some kid-inspired passion!
There are a lot of stories, video and podcasts out there that chronicle the worst of school lunches in America.
It’s a greasy, gory ride through tales of Frito pie, pizza and deep fried chicken nuggets. Of course, there are going to be widespread changes as the new Child Nutrition Act gets put into place, but it turns out, one of the biggest school districts in the country made the change several years ago.
According to The New York Times City Critic Ariel Kaminer in this video and article in the paper, New York City’s public schools started serving healthier meals six years ago. No fried food, no artificial ingredients, no trans fats—and all for about $1 a meal.
And the best news? Kids like the food. Especially the salad bar.
Now if they could just get rid of those nasty disposable Styrofoam trays…
Generations of hands have been wrung and brows beaten on the subject of how to get kids to eat their greens. But it turns out—in the school context at least— all it takes is moving the salad bar.
According to Cornell researchers who spent a year studying a New York state middle school, simply placing the salad bar in a better location (pulling it away from a wall and moving it closer to the cash) resulted in a 250-300% increase in the purchase of certain salad bar items. And by the end of the year the school saw a 6% uptake in kids buying school lunch.
It’s not exactly rocket science—grocery stores have been guiding our food desires/choices for decades simply by where they put certain products. Why shouldn’t schools adopt such a cheap and intelligent way to get kids to make more healthful choices?