What has changed for the federally funded and mandated school lunch program this year? Oh, where do I start? Snacks are being regulated. The guidelines continue to prohibit kids—who are hungry—from receiving enough protein and calories. Many of those troubled by the situation have shared their own School Lunch Soapbox, such as my friend, Annie. Despite the letters and calls to our elected officials, tweets to USDA, a Sensible School Lunch call to action via Facebook, blogging efforts and even the introduction of the Sensible School Lunch Act, Congress has not changed the mandates and standards, which were initially created by Mrs. Obama and then formalized by USDA into the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
This topic has me so fired up that I could blog about it everyday. But screaming and ranting doesn’t foster progress. I have worked behind the scenes with friends to demand positive change for hungry kids in schools. But I think we have fallen on deaf ears. Or, we created such a stir that USDA started slapping hands and told people to back off and be quiet.
Well, I’m not backing off and neither is the band of those who are concerned. Rob Port from North Dakota shared an update on what is happening in my home state this week, highlighting the food waste and increased expense the school lunch program is creating.
So what are you going to do about it? You don’t have to have kids to care. You don’t have to have kids in public schools for this issue to eat at you, literally and figuratively. In the United States of America, where we provide public education to children and grow an abundance of food, I will not stand back and watch as our kids are not properly fed in our schools.
I am a Food Choice Mom. I want all kids to have choices when it comes to what they eat. Above all, I want them to have enough to eat so they can learn and be active while in school.
I’m not concerned about how these regulations are affecting my three kids. I make sure they are fed. I’m worried about the kids who qualify for free and reduced lunch and breakfast, which is the majority of American kids, and don’t have the extra money in their lunch accounts to buy second helpings. They aren’t getting enough protein to keep them full. In reality, they are eating processed food that I wouldn’t dare feed my kids at home. Do the kids who leave school hungry go home and eat carrot sticks and jump rope while listening to Mrs. Obama’s new initiative of hip-hop music that makes exercising fun? Does hearing the “Veggie Luv” song keep hungry kids from eating junk food after school or prevent them from lounging on the couch and playing video games? I highly doubt it. How are we going to provoke change in our school lunch program? Last year, I thought a national effort was needed. This year, I am trying a new approach until the federal mess can be fixed for all kids.
First, I went to the grocery store and bought snacks for my kids’ classroom. My brother, who is a fourth grade teacher, burst out laughing when I walked into his classroom and said, “As long as Mrs. Obama is OK with kids going hungry in schools, I will feed them on my own dime.” I pack boxes of food before my son leaves on a school bus trip whether it is to a track meet or State FFA. His teammates and friends call out, “Mama Pinke!” when I pull up to the bus, anxious to see what is in the box of goodies. If you can make a difference, even in a small way, then start in your local school.
Next, I gave in and let my son come home for lunch. This flies in the face of what my husband and I believe in. Our son should eat in school. In fact, the Associated Press interviewed him about his need to eat in school last year, and the story appeared in national publications. He is a big boy. He is an athlete. Kids come in all shapes, sizes and activity levels, and they need varying amounts of food. Limiting calories, grains and proteins with a one-size-fits all approach doesn’t work. It especially doesn’t work for the kids who don’t have extra money to buy more food.
Until this problem is fixed, I’m not going to let my 6’5″, 215 lb. son go hungry or have to buy seconds and thirds in school when he can drive home and eat a homemade meal.
I want this mandate mess fixed for all kids. But since I only have a direct influence on my own kids, I’m going to make sure they are properly fed. A school lunch costs my son $2.10. For $4.20 to $6.30, I can prepare a great meal for him.
Since I can’t help every kid, I’m going to follow the lead of others and investigate food banks, backpack programs and other options that can meet the protein and grain needs of hungry kids. I am going to continue to contact elected officials.
And it’s not just food our kids need. Our kids need activities and movement. I volunteered as a high school track coach last spring. This year, I am volunteering with the 4-H Club for our daughters. I can’t bring back more physical education, home economics and agriculture education into our schools by myself. But I can make a difference by getting involved to help more kids be active and doing my best to make sure they have food choices and are fed.
We have to create solutions. Our school can’t pull out of the federal lunch program. That seems like the easiest solution, but education funding is tied to food. The $74,000 our small rural school receives in Title I funds a teacher and aide’s salaries and some supplies. In order to receive these federal tax dollars, we must participate in the school lunch program.
It is up to you to create your own school lunch intervention. Decide what you can do and make a difference. Start small. Think big. Don’t stop working to create real solutions for hungry kids in our public schools.
What ideas do you have to help kids get enough to eat in our schools?
Is that all they get to eat (What i see on your daughters plate)? Wow! I have seen this happening more then once and it is just mind blogging. What about the children who have juvenile diabetes and are on insulin/pumps? Or those who have other health issues? They need more food then that to function on a daily basis. Same goes for the healthy/athletic children as well. How can any of these children function in school all day with such low calorie intakes ? I am an insulin dependent type 2 diabetic and I get very sick if I don’t eat enough calorie intakes in my day. I know that healthy foods need to be fed to children more so then junk food to avoid problems of future health issues to our children. But…….this is just out right ridiculous. The schools in Bismarck have the back pack lunches program. Every Friday for our low income families. They have been doing this for a few years now. They send a back pack home filled with snacks to the children who would not get fed meals at home over the weekends because their families are either low income and/ or are homeless. The back packs are returned on Monday mornings to be refilled for the weekends. If food intake is cut down during the week while they are going to school and these children I am sure depend on one good meal a day,then how can these children even function at all with their studies by going hungry all the time ? One Mother explained that her children are so hungry that when they come home from school that they raid the cupboards to the point of them over eating to much that they end up not having their supper meal. Someone even suggested the families could probably make a bigger breakfast before they send their children off to school in the mornings? Not sure if that would solve the problem or not either ? I think this is a super great idea that your stepping up and show care in to helping those out who are in need. I hope others will help out and follow you. Kudos to you, Katie for doing this. Job well done!
Darlene, thanks for your kind comment. You are right and the Bismarck backpack program is something I will look into more and see if we can make it work in our small school. I would love to see it happen. Yes that is my daughter’s lunch tray from her preschool lunch last year. They didn’t have salad bar then and now they do. But she is allotted the same calories as all K-5 kids. It’s just not enough. It will take many of us to do what we can to change this and it must start local I think.
Katie, your very welcome. Lots of changes have been made to the lunch program since I went to school there( Grades 4 th-12 th). Do they still offer the milk breaks in the mornings and mid afternoons for grades K-6 ? Maybe its something they could start offering the younger children,along with a small snack. If they don’t ? Then maybe its something they could or at least think about doing again as well as offering some healthy or nutritional drinks and snacks for the high school students in the vending machines. Just a thought. Knowing our government they would be against this as well.
Our local food pantry does the backpack program as well. It’s a great program. Our Sunday School kids are raising money for it now. I hear you on the eating after school and then not wanting supper. My son attempts to do that all the time. I watch him pretty close, but I’m about to the point of sending lunches with him because he’s just not eating enough for lunch.
Susan Kraft says
My daughter and all her friends and many other kids in school now bring their own lunch. What has happened with the school lunch program is ridiculous!
Thanks, Sue! It’s fun to hear from you and I am sad that so many kids are bringing their lunches. We do have dedicated school employees whose hands are completed tied and cannot fix the problems. I have had school lunch cooks write me and thank me for speaking out on this issue. I had one pull me aside at a basketball game with her eyes filled with tears. I just want to see positive changes! And yes it is ridiculous.