The Problem with Your Child's School Lunch

Meals Gone Bad -- and Good

healthy school lunch

Paula Hible

That disconnect shocked Lolli Leeson, a wellness educator and parent, when she volunteered in her kids' lunchroom in Marble-head, Massachusetts. After 15 minutes, the students were allowed to throw out their lunch and buy junk food, such as cookies, candy, and chips, from the à la carte menu. "The kids were taught a bit about nutrition in the classroom, but the school was being hypocritical in not modeling it in the lunchroom," she says.

We take it for granted that these are the foods that kids want to eat. But most experts disagree. Sam Kass, Mrs. Obama's food-initiative coordinator, has been spending a lot of time visiting schools and hosting children at the White House garden as part of Mrs. Obama's Let's Move! campaign. "When the First Lady planted and harvested the garden with kids and then cooked a meal with them, those kids ate salad like it was going out of style -- like it was french fries -- and they ate peas like they were the best thing they had ever tasted," says Kass.

The food kids eat for lunch around the world is evidence that what we think of as kid-friendly is more nurture than nature. In France, menus include beet salad, pumpkin soup, and veal stew. Korean students eat kimchi and stir-fried beef with carrots.

In fact, the successes at Galtier Magnet School, where 80 percent of all the elementary students eat what's prepared at school, and at other districts throughout the country, prove that it is possible to serve meals that are healthy, appeal to kids' taste buds, and offer important lessons about the value of good nutrition -- instead of being based on children's whims. "We don't allow kids to not learn about Shakespeare," says chef Ann Cooper, aka "The Renegade Lunch Lady," who overhauled the Berkeley, California, and Boulder, Colorado, school-lunch programs. "Why would we allow kids to decide that they don't want to eat green food?" The urgency over what our kids are eating is due to some scary facts: Children born in the year 2000 have more than a 30 percent chance of developing diabetes during their lifetime, according to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that 16.9 percent of children between the ages of 2 and 19 are already obese.

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