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.
Why don’t you send a lunch to school with your son? I was a very picky eater growing up and always packed my own lunch. Problem solved.
Thanks for commenting Rachel. We tried the lunches and prepared them most of last year when Hunter did not have his driver’s license. This post has a picture of him making all of our freezer sandwiches for lunch: http://thepinkepost.com/2012/08/3-school-lunch-solutions-with-linky/
We also have him walk to his grandma’s house from school somedays. A lunch at home is bigger, most often a hot meal and more options for him than a packed lunch. In my opinion, the problem is not solved if everyone brings a lunch from home. We still have a school lunch food problem. But bringing your own food is what many kids have to do at this time.
Excellent points, Katie. I would like to add that some children eat breakfast and lunch at school and that is all they have to eat for the day because their parents, for one reason or another, do not or are not able to give them supper. Let’s call it 1,000 calories a day. That is not enough for most children. Without access to quality foods or the ability to get extra food, these children aren’t getting the proper nutrition.
Thank you Sarah! Yes, I haven’t address breakfast but the numbers show 82% of American kids in public school qualify for the free and reduced breakfast program. You are absolutely correct that if we don’t feed these children in school, they aren’t necessarily fed at home. It’s a big issue and one worth working on for the future of our children. Thank you again!
Very interesting topic!
I absolutely see your point, that Hunter needs more fuel than 850 calories. (Pretty much any kid needs more than 850 calories..). BUT I have to go with the pencil-pushers that he is not the average kid. If you’d feed your girls the ~4700 calories a day, would they be able to burn them?
Long story short: I see the 850 calories meal a short-term solution. They simply cut the food to make ANY change AT ALL. And 850 calories might be a scientific calculation gone wrong by some gov. consulting company.
But here comes the point that I absolutely agree with you: Every kid is different. Every kid as a different level of energy. All depending on age, gender, sports involvement (not even counting in additional physical acitivities like farm-life…) and so on.. I doubt that they will ever make the effort to divide and/or “categorize”(!) kids. I bet hell would break lose if any admin department would be entitled to categorize(!) YOUR kid. How dare them..
So, they took the somewhat easy way – simply cut everybodies food.
Another point being – obesity is caused by food. Yes. BUT it is at the same time caused by lack of activity. Todays kids, no offence, but esp. the urban and city-kids, are mostly entertained by TV, social media and TV-involved games. No, Nintendo wii doesn’t count as “activity”..
So here you have the two points I don’t like about the campaign: 1 . As far as I know Mrs. Obama had her (reasearch?)-marketing campaign rolled out primarily in urban schools with the urban obesity problem. 2. It’s not done with just cutting the food. Promoting an active lifestyle with sports, volunteering, outdoors and so on must be a part of it as well. Otherwise all you do is litereally breed malnutrinitioned zombies that can’t leave the living room because with the first wind chill they get a cold because they lack an immune system. Plus, you also need to promote healty choices with the parents. They are the kids biggest role models and it’s them to live an healthy, active lifestyle.
In the end, I am curious to see the actual results … for USA, and in detail, per state. Has obesity really been reduced?! But then again.. it’s just a statistic, paid by …………………..
think you do a valueable thing, promoting individual food choices, depending on the actual needs per kid. Nonetheless, I fear you have to continue packing your kids the food you actually want them to eat in addition to what the school provides.
Kerstin, thank you! You gave me much food for thought that I will have work on answering in follow up blog posts!