What do schoolchildren and school administrators in Middle America, Appalachia, upscale suburbia and the inner city all have in common?
Those participating in the Michelle Obama-championed National School Lunch Program overwhelmingly disapprove of the menu plan, resulting in what the Czarina of Healthful Eats would call “delicious fresh food” ending up in the trash instead of in students’ tummies.
Nutrition Services Director Mary Brunig of the Carroll Independent School District in Texas’ Dallas-Fort Worth area is dropping out of Mo-Lunch this year, calling the program’s requirements too restrictive. “You have to follow exactly what is in this meal pattern, if you are in the National School Lunch Program. As a result, a lot of food wound up in the trash.”
Like Ms. Brunig, many other school administrators, chefs and nutritionists are saying: “With the new program in place, the new meal pattern, our participation started to drop. And the other thing was there was food waste. Children were not eating the food. If the children aren’t eating the food, there IS no nutrition.”
Students and parents in a rural Kentucky county are among the latest to join a growing national movement to denounce and dump the healthy school lunches touted by Michelle Obama. “They say it tastes like vomit,” said Harlan County Public Schools board member Myra Mosley at a contentious board meeting last week, The Harlan Daily Enterprise reported. Districts that have rejected the program say the federal government’s reimbursement is not enough to offset losses from students who bring food from home or, in some cases, go hungry for the lack of an acceptable alternative.
“Some of the stuff we had to offer, they wouldn’t eat…” said Catlin, Ill., Superintendent Gary Lewis. His district saw a 10-12% decrease in lunch sales last year — a $30,000 loss under the program. “…so you sit there and watch the kids and you know they’re hungry at the end of the day…that led to some behavior and some lack of attentiveness.”
In upstate New York near tony Saratoga Springs the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake Schools, whose five lunchrooms ended the year $100,000 in the red, has quit the program. Voorheesville, NY School Superintendent Teresa Thayer Snyder said her upper middle-class district near Albany lost $30,000 in the first three months, prompting the district to drop out of MO-Lunch well before the end of the school year after students and administrators repeatedly complained about small portions, unappealing menu items and fruit that went from tray to trash untouched. Similar reports have come from big cities like Baltimore, Chicago and New York City.
I might be an exception to the rule — or just a lifelong chowhound — but I enjoyed what we used to call “hot lunch” served in the school cafeteria in olden times by hair-netted ladies.
If you didn’t care for a particular vegetable you could trade it for another commodity. It didn’t really matter if you bargained with some straight-A vegetable lover for a fattening slice of bread or a pint of whole milk in return for your pickled beets (Note: Even goody-goodies would never give up their desserts unless you offered them a knuckle sandwich.) because you’d burn off those extra calories and then some playing, fighting and making mischief before, during and after wolfing down a tray-full of hot lunch.
Besides, my own liberal mother was guiltier than anyone of allowing me to get away with blowing off vegetables. Mom knew that if the commies won the Cold War and took over New York’s public schools they would have to torture me before I’d ever take a bite of cauliflower, a Brussels sprout or a waxed bean…and then I’d spit it back in their faces.
And isn’t the old swap-o-rama game exactly what many Nannychildren are doing with their food stamps? But instead of trading for an extra hunk of sheet cake, today’s entitlement abusers are smoking, drinking and swapping for Lord knows what other kinds of commodities on our dime.
The antidote to MO-Lunch’s unappetizing added cost and waste is a return to menus that include offerings kids will voluntarily eat. If we’re going to worry about such things as kids’ weight and cholesterol we should limit outright junk food but offer occasional sweet treats as a reinforcing reward for participation in a phys-ed class or pre-lunch exercise program — anything that breaks the sedentary spell that today’s school children are under.
The Four R’s should be…
Thumb wrestling doesn’t count as exercise but a thumbs-down for the MO-Lunch program is a good warm-up.