What’s for lunch? We ask this question every day, and it becomes challenging at each and every meal to come up with something nutritious and interesting to eat. Think about what it must be like to serve meals to kids every day of the week and how difficult to come up with foods that help young bodies grow and appeal to their typical finicky tastes.
Children have become finicky eaters over the years because their diets have been reduced to junk foods in all their menu choices – s0 it is simply because they are not exposed to a wide variety of nutritious foods. Instead, they are offered the same things over and over again; and much of the choices for children’s meals in schools and restaurants alike is processed, chemically-loaded, nutritionally devoid items.
The only saving grace with restaurants is (hopefully) they are used more few-and-far between as people generally don’t eat out each day. School lunches present a much bigger problem since many children eat them daily or several times a week in their schedule of meals.
I’ve noticed that many parents and others assume children won’t eat vegetables. When children are not expected to eat healthy foods, they seldom ask for them and/or refuse to eat them if they are offered. A good example is restaurant menus. If you go into an eating establishment, you can see that mostly children’s menus are separate from everyone else’s, and the choices are less than nutritious: hot dogs/corn dogs, hamburgers and french fries, chicken nuggets, macaroni and cheese, and spaghetti noodles with marinara sauce are common selections. Children are given a variety of deep-fried and processed foods with little to no vegetables or whole grains.
The only whole food I’ve consistently seen on menus is the occasional fruit or carrots, but kids are already getting so much sugar in the main course items, it’s just more of the same with a little fiber. Any type of bread or bread food served is often the processed, white variety and no real whole grains. Whole grains are those that are not ground up and are actually “whole”, something you will rarely see in most stores or restaurants that sell bread and bread products.
The school lunch program available in public schools is another example of poor choices offered to children. Kids can only eat what is available, and generally won’t make good choices for themselves if other unhealthy items are repeatedly served in the lunch line. Here is a sample lunch menu for one school week:
Monday – Corn dog or macaroni and cheese, breakfast pocket, build a salad, fruit
Tuesday – Pepperoni cheese bread or teriyaki chicken and rice or half bagel and yogurt, fortune cookie, build a salad, fruit, vegetable blend
Wednesday – Soft shell taco or fruit and yogurt plate or deli turkey sandwich, snickerdoodle, tortilla chips, lettuce, tomato, cheese, fruit
Thursday - Toasty cheese sandwich or Chef Boyardee Ravioli or deli ham and cheese sandwich, vegetable barley soup, fruit, variety crackers
Friday - New York Style Pretzel or burrito or baked potato, cheese sauce, chili beans, vegetable toss, fruit, flour tortilla
At a glance, many of these meals may seem fine. These do contain some vegetables and fruit. Aside from those few whole foods, the rest of the selections are processed and unnatural as can be. Foods like Chef Boyardee Raviolis are one of the most processed products you can find, and are enriched with synthetic vitamins and minerals to make up for their gross deficiency in nutrient content. The meat and dairy selections (which are pasteurized) are undoubtedly from factory farms, and there is nothing good to say about the quality of factory-farmed meats and dairy products which are laden with chemicals, steroids, antibiotics, hormones – without even mentioning the types of feed given to the animals who are slaughtered for food. Grain products (corn on corn dogs, bread on which pepperoni cheese sits, crackers, pretzels, tortillas, bagels, etc.) are also highly processed and enriched to make up for lack of nutrition. It is virtually impossible to take a food that is nutritionally empty and “enrich” it with vitamins and minerals it otherwise wouldn’t contain, and then label it as “healthy”. School lunches contain exorbitantly high amount of carbohydrates, so adding desserts is completely unnecessary.
Here are the ingredients for breaded popcorn chicken, a popular meal item served on school lunch menus across the country:
Chicken Breast with Rib Meat CONTAINING: Up to 20% of a Solution of Water, Salt and Sodium
BREADED WITH: Bleached Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn flour, Salt, Spices, Leavening
(Sodium Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate, Sodium Acid Pyrophosphate, Monocalcium Phosphate),
Nonfat Dry Milk, Dried Whey, Soy Flour, Dried Whole Eggs, Sodium Alginate, Partially Hydrogenated
Soybean Oil, Dextrose, Garlic Powder, Mono and Diglycerides and Dried Yeast.
BATTERED WITH: Water, Wheat Flour, Yellow Corn Flour, Dried Whey, Dextrose, Spices, Salt, Leavening (Sodium
Bicarbonate, Sodium Aluminum Phosphate), Sodium Alginate, Soy Flour, Oleoresin Paprika, Nonfat Dry
Milk, Dried Whole Eggs. Breading set in vegetable oil.
ALLERGENS: EGG, MILK, SOY, WHEAT
Do you really want your children eating this garbage?
One of the biggest problems with sources of food for school lunches is that the supplies for feeding children come from government subsidies which purchase mostly lowest quality foods from wherever they can be found. Foods are packaged and shipped all over the country, and little to no consideration is given to natural, organic, or local selections for children’s meals. The recent massive meat recall in February of this year, 2008, should be a wake-up call to parents and other consumers alike who believe this type of food is safe to consume. I hear a lot of rhetoric about how to reform school lunches, and most call for changes falls under one of the following:
- To reduce fats and calories – low and non fat foods like reduced fat dairy and meats are not going to help children’s health because they are not whole foods and will only contribute to the rise in health issues our nation is currently experiencing such as obesity and Diabetes. Consumption of pasteurized and low or non-fat dairy causes malabsorption of nutrients and actually leeches calcium from the bones. Proteins and fats are denatured and rendered toxic for the human body. For more information, see Why The Consumption of Milk is Harmful to Your Health on this site.
- To offer non-dairy solutions (I can only assume they mean soy, rice, or almond products which are no better than their chemical-filled counterparts because they are processed, and not whole foods)
- Because everyone just wants to lie down and accept that “children won’t eat vegetables”, I have seen proposals that school lunches start to include more fruit, but don’t bother so much with vegetables. This is not a solution, it is just adding to the problem that children are not getting the nutrients in vegetables they desperately need, many of which cannot be provided in just fruits.
- To replace menu items like hamburgers, pizza, and hot dogs with so-called “healthier alternatives” such as grilled cheese sandwiches (with processed, enriched bread), peanut butter and jam on “whole grain” breads (which couldn’t be farther from whole grain), and bagels with low-fat cream cheese. These foods are just as processed and empty of nutrients as the ones that have been on school lunch menus for 50 or more years. And they include NO vegetables. Come on people, wake up! Generally speaking these items contain not more than a little protein that can actually be absorbed, processed carbohydrates, and chemicals.
Why should our children be eating differently? Overwhelming amounts of research tell us that nutrition is the foundation of our children’s health, including brain function and cognitive abilities. Children need calories, protein, good carbohydrates, and fats — wholesome, unprocessed fats with which to perform in school and be physically active. But what they are getting in school lunches, and a great deal of other eating environments, is processed foods. How can a child be expected to behave and be successful in school when the food he or she eats is not wholesome or nutritious? Children who are ill-mannered, hyperactive, depressed, moody, or lethargic could well benefit from changes in diet.
What’s that, you say…we’d have to raise taxes substantially to accommodate this? Perhaps, perhaps not. It would really depend on how the program was set up. Local foods should cost less than those shipped all over the country. But if taxes were raised, I cannot think of a better cause than investing in the health of the people who will be running the world someday. This is an extreme problem contributing to the downfall of our health, and an extreme problem requires extreme action. A return to truly healthy, slow foods is at the epicenter of answers to our health crisis.
What could be better than reducing the amount spent on pharmaceuticals, hospital fees, and doctor bills in this country – especially by starting at the ground level which is in our schools where the children are? Think of the savings in health and insurance costs alone due to a regularly consumed, healthy lunch. It may seem insignificant, but the effect would actually be enormous given the amount of children who eat school lunches and the frequency of which these meals are served.
Compare the first school lunch menu in this article to the one shown above with local, organic, and chemical-free alternatives. When you live a healthier lifestyle, you are not burdening health care and insurance systems as heavily, and therefore are not contributing to those rising costs. It is also very important to place children in an environment where they are offered and educated about real choices in health and healthy food. If everyone made the effort, we could institute healthier lunches for our children, a sound investment for the future.