“I hate school lunches,” she said, as she came through the front door. “I HATE school lunches,” she said a bit louder this time, making sure her mother knew she’d come home from school. Slamming her school books and other random stuff on the dining room table, she headed into the kitchen.
There you were, fixing dinner. “I hate school lunches,” she said and opening the fridge, she began pulling objects off the shelf. Leftover pasta, a slab of cheesecake, anything. “Oh my God,” she said, cramming the food into her mouth as fast as could, while you despaired, knowing she’d fill up now and not eat the dinner you’re cooking right now. “I’m starving. And by the way, I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.”
Sound familiar? If so, you’re part of a nationwide movement of kids refusing to eat school lunches. Now hatred of school lunches has always been the stuff of legends. After all, school lunches are institutional food. It’s never going to be the sort of fare you’d find at a 5-star restaurant.
Fuel On The Fire?
Something has, however, changed of late with school lunches, so that the “I hate school lunches movement” has had some fuel thrown on its fire. Some say that it’s just the same old hatred repackaged and now directed unfairly toward Michelle Obama. It is true that Mrs. Obama is responsible for creating the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which has changed the way children are eating in schools across America.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was created to tackle two serious problems: childhood obesity and hunger. Childhood obesity is causing all sorts of health problems. Hungry kids can’t do their schoolwork, and won’t get ahead in life. In part, the idea of the act was to at least make sure that hungry children from low-income homes get at least one meal a day. Also, the act would add nutritional value to meals and help train children to prefer more nutritious foods.
Some say that changes made to the National School Lunch Program have made school lunches unappealing and created waste, while putting food services in the red. Others would quote studies that say just the opposite and want to give the program a chance.
“I Hate School Lunches” Isn’t New
Meantime, the cry “I hate school lunches” is heard from California to the New York Island and in all the places in between. But hasn’t that always been the way? It would be the strange child indeed who yearns to eat institutional food.
Let’s examine both sides of the issue.
The number of obese children has risen more than 2 percentage points since the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed. But that doesn’t mean that the program is a failure. Children don’t only eat at school, and sometimes things get worse before they get better. It may take more time to discover whether or not the act will lower the rate of childhood obesity.
One small study suggested that school lunch waste, or food thrown away uneaten, has risen by a whopping 56% since 2012, when the act went into effect. This study was based on before and after photographs of lunch trays in two elementary schools. The act requires kids to choose fruits and vegetables. This study said that children are putting these items on their trays, but pitching them into the garbage uneaten.
A larger study performed by Harvard University found the opposite to be true: kids are eating more fruits and vegetables since the new lunch standards were adopted. And that means less waste, not more. Before the USDA school meal standards were changed, kids threw out 75% of their vegetables. After the changes, kids are discarding 60% of their school lunch vegetables. As for fruit, kids threw out 40% of the fruit before the changes went into effect and they’re still throwing away 40% of their fruit, now.
In other words, kids are eating more vegetables, but not more fruit, and there’s room for improvement. But it’s a start. And it tells us that food choices and food preparation must improve.
Another study by the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found no increase in waste after the new guidelines were put in place. Here, kids had to choose a fruit or vegetable in order for the meal to count as a reimbursable meal. The researchers found that even so, kids were eating the same amount of food as before the changes took effect. In other words, these kids weren’t throwing out their fruit. They were eating it.
Beans, Beans, Go Away
That study did find that there was one particular food that kids were throwing away uneaten, and that was legumes, for instance beans, peas, and lentils. The children in this study were from eight elementary schools in southeast Texas, and were students in kindergarten through the 5th grade.
So there are two sides to this story. On the one hand, some kids are throwing away their school lunches and buying junk instead. But some kids have always done that.
Since, however, they can no longer get that junk food in school vending machines (under the rules of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act), they go off school grounds and buy it elsewhere. Or starve, come home famished and declare, “I hate school lunches.”
And maybe that’s one downside of these school lunch changes.
Rich Kids Buy Junk
On the one hand, starving kids aren’t going to do well in their classes. So the act means that more children from lower income homes will be fed at least one healthy meal a day: their school lunch. On the other hand, kids from the higher end of the socioeconomic spectrum, have money to buy junk food off-campus and are also being fed at home. And that is why some schools serving more privileged students have opted out of the National School Lunch Program.
Now that’s not a small decision. Opting out of the National School Lunch Program means opting out of the federal money that comes with that program. In Bozeman, Montana, for instance, that means giving up $117,000 in food subsidies.
Bob Burrows, director of food services in Bozeman reported to the school board that since opting out of the program, school lunch “traffic is way up.” That’s good, because last year, the food service budget ended the school year $16,000 in the red. Sales are back up, because the service is now preparing food kids actually like, instead of offering them the prepackaged government meals.
It’s not only Bozeman, mind you. It’s happened in Denver, too. Denver’s Douglas County School District dropped out of the program a year ago. In fact, 70% of all school programs have taken a huge financial hit since the new rules went into effect and this has made a bunch of school districts drop out of the program altogether.
A Better World
That’s a shame. Because in a better world, offering children meals that are lower in sodium and fat and higher in good things like fiber and vitamins, would be a welcome gift.
But you know. School lunches. Institutional food.
It’s going to suck. Big time.
And kids are kids. So they’re going to blame someone, right? Even though the school lunch is historically disgusting.
So, to make a long story short, all this is why kids are tweeting pix and videos with the hashtag #ThanksMichelleObama. It’s like a competition to see who can photograph the worst looking food. And with these photos, they all pretty much win.
Some of this food is truly dreadful looking and these pix represent the worst of the worst. Seeing them will make you glad you are a grown up and no longer need to eat that stuff. But we leave it to you to decide whether the food depicted in these tweets is really so much worse than what you were forced to eat before Michelle Obama did her bit for our children’s health and welfare.
Tell us what you think in the comments section, below.
Um yeah. I can kind of see why a kid would look at that and say, “I hate school lunches.”
“I hate school lunches.” Uh huh. Has a ring to it.
I’m beginning to get the point. They hate school lunches.
It appears kids really don’t like this stuff. Who’d a thunk it?
It’s what’s for lunch.
“I hate school lunches.” Okay, okay. We hear you. No need to scream.
“But I HATE SCHOOL LUNCHES.” Um yeah. We’re getting that.
So, lemme get this straight? You don’t like the food at your school?
Ouch. I need eye bleach.
This is like a bad dream. When do we get to wake up?