The headlines say school lunch has permanent changes to it that remove the limits of protein and grains that previously were mandated via Mrs. Obama’s push on the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. News media celebrated. Senators held press conferences to pat themselves on the back.
I called our local school.
Without a return call back after a few days, I emailed our assistant state nutrition director earlier in the month. I asked for direction on how this changes school lunch. Her response was immediate but her words didn’t affirm change for me.
Instead, they left me frustrated, back to where I was in August 2012 when I started grassroots outreach with other concerned friends, both online and offline to change the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 that lowered protein and grain maximums and created calorie caps on all children in the school breakfast and lunch program. The nutrition director said this was merely some legislative housekeeping from last year’s temporary lift on the grains and protein restrictions but the calorie caps were still in place.
I explained through emails that our son, Hunter, is 16 years old, 6’5″ and likes to weigh about 215 lbs. He needs 4700 to 5000 calories a day to maintain his weight with his activity level and is capped to 850 calories in school. Therefore, he has been dashing home to eat a homemade meal from me most days rather than eat at school.
This issue has become a passionate one in our household and not only for me. Hunter was interviewed by the Associated Press in a national article about school lunch rules in the fall of 2012. It was in that article USDA Undersecretary Concannon’s comments about all kids can’t eat like football players that fueled me.
Concannon said, “If you look at colleges in the United States, if you’ve ever looked at the tables where they’re feeding just the football players. Good God … If you emulated that, we’d all be wearing size 48 suits by our 20s,” he said. “You have to use common sense.”
That comment showed me the USDA wasn’t listening. More work needed to be done.
We aren’t concerned about colleges and football players. Or what size suits they are wearing. We are concerned about public school children in America, from age five through 18.
All kids should have the opportunity to be football players if they want to be and should have the nutrition to succeed academically and athletically in a public school. The problem is 67% of American kids are on free and reduced lunch. What the school serves them is what they get to eat. They often don’t have extra money in their lunch accounts to purchase additional food. The food isn’t full of lean protein or whole grains for energy. Sometimes I question what they are even eating. Is it pizza without any meat and a little cheese? Whatever it is, it can be improved.
In our small school I have observed we don’t have a huge problem with obesity. And is that even a school’s problem if we do? Is there personal responsibility in obesity? I think so.
We have to teach healthy living habits which includes activity, both at school and at home. If our kids aren’t fed, they don’t have energy to participate. Regardless of socioeconomic circumstances, kids need opportunity to thrive in our public schools.
I have worked to create our own School Lunch Intervention. But this month, our school board acted in response to the emails our assistant state nutrition director sent me. What the nutrition director shared is not her fault. She is implementing federal regulations placed upon her office. She recommended that Hunter still eat at home for lunch rather than at school because of the lack of calories he gets there or that I send him extra food to school. That solution works for us but is not feasible for 95% of kids and parents. What are they to do? She recommended the school board pay for seconds like other school boards have done around North Dakota and in other states.
After the email series, I sent the below email to a couple of school board members, who I had also called and talked to on the phone. I asked them to share with all school board members ahead of the upcoming school board meeting. I also shared with our school superintendent.
I use this is an example to create change in your local school and have removed names for that reason.
Following the federal law permanent changes I inquired with (the superintendent) on Friday, January 3rd about the impact this would have school lunch in (our small town). I had not heard from him this week so on Wednesday, January 8, I contacted the Assistant Director for Child Nutrition at DPI. Shortly after that the superintendent called me back and said that the school cook hasn’t gotten any information on the changes and that when she did she would implement changes. I have attached the documents the Assistant Director for Child Nutrition sent me including a memo that was sent to all schools January 2nd. I also have attached the two school lunch photos I reference in one of my emails to the Assistant Director for Child Nutrition below.
Our local school board reacted and has started to serve seconds for $1 for grades 7-12.There is also sandwich meat and bread on the salad bar for them to make an extra sandwich. While this is a first step, there is an opportunity to continue to take additional steps in our school and in your schools. From parent education, bigger breakfasts at home, in-class demonstrations on food preparation and gardening like our agriculture and home economics teachers are doing locally are all aspects I will share more about in the future.
Yesterday, our local small town newspaper printed lengthy coverage on this issue and included my comments from an interview. I am grateful for local engagement and involvement that is working to make changes for our students of all ages.
If you want to create change, it doesn’t just happen in social media. You have to go offline to engage with leaders to make positive changes. Create and impact change for your local school. Kids need you.