School lunches in the United States suck.
Now, I am not saying the school lunch programs itself are awful. Many public schools offer their students discounted or even free lunches in cases of those below a certain income line. They also offer breakfasts, which are an incredible help to families struggling to make ends meet. When you have a child living in poverty, school lunch programs can be a life saving benefit that we should most definitely continue funding through taxes.
The problem is the type of food that schools serve in cafeterias all over the country. Not only is it low quality food, but it could be argued that most of it is incredibly unhealthy.
I will say right now that this isn’t so much a post about Vegetarianism or Veganism, though those two lifestyles do potentially come into play. This is more about the system of nutrition in this country as a whole, especially where children and young people are concerned.
HBO has an interesting documentary called Weight of the Nation. One of their episodes was all about children and the rising rates of obesity in those under the age of eighteen. You can see the full episode here, but I wanted to point out one particular part that I am posting below.
As you can see, even the educators admit that they don’t eat the school lunches and that the system in place is more about cost and convenience than health. Schools are over burdened and under funded, and so they cut corners wherever they can. They have no choice but to do so.
This goes to a wider question of education in this country that I won’t get into, yet the food is a big problem. Especially since it is the poorest students that need free breakfasts and lunches that are most impacted by the issue. Is is any wonder our kids are becoming so overweight in this country? Or that the highest obesity rates are in the poorest areas?
Some people might be thinking this is an extreme case scenario. But have you looked at your school’s menu lately? You may be lucky enough to be in a district where this problem is being addressed and changes are being made. But I know my daughter’s school lunch menu is nothing but hot dogs, chicken fingers, pizza, meat filled white pastas, fried chicken sandwiches, pork “riblettes”, nachos, hamburgers….these are every day foods there.
If you are having your children live Veggie lifestyles (I am not, personally), you have no choice but to send pack lunches. Parents who don’t have Veggie children should also consider doing so. It might seem like a hassle, or expensive. But neither of those things are really the case, as it often costs less than the average daily lunch cost of the school to send a lunch with your child.
A quick explanation of how my children eat: as I said, they are not Veggies themselves. I feel that it is a decision they need to make for, and at four and seven they aren’t quite at a place to do so. What I have done instead is tried to guide them and lessen their impact. I give them an appreciation for a wide array of meatless foods like different fruits and vegetables.
We don’t cook meat at home and while they might have a lunch meat sandwich a few times a week, it is usually a Veggie option instead. They don’t drink milk, though they do eat yogurt and cheese at their own request. I limit items with high sugar contents or high fructose corn syrup. They don’t drink soda or anything like that, and only are allowed juice once a day.
Each morning I spent five minutes making my daughter lunch to take with her to school. She is one of those kids that tends to like the same general thing every day, so your own child might be a bit pickier about their choices. But even creating a rotating schedule of five different lunches per week is pretty simple.
An average lunch will contain:
1 sandwich (lunch meat with lettuce and tomato, peanut butter and jelly, almond butter and fruit, ect)
1 oz crackers, pretzels, nuts or seeds.
3 oz veggies (cherry tomatoes, cucumber slices, baby carrots, celery sticks, ect)
1 fruit (apple, sliced orange, strawberries, grapes, watermelon, cantaloupe, ect)
1 juice box (apple)
The average cost is about $1.40 per day, and that is due to the more expensive items I purchase that you could switch out easily (juice box, crackers/nuts/seeds/pretzels). That is $7 a week or $28 per month per child. With a bit of creativity you could cut that cost way down, even sending along leftovers from dinner the night before. Or making a large batch of something they like to eat and freezing it in individual servings to send a few times per week.
If you are lucky enough to have your children at a school that serves nutritious meals, that is fantastic. For most of the people reading this, that won’t be the case. Despite the rising obesity problem, schools just don’t have the money to offer anything but mass produced, overly processed garbage.
Making a school lunch, whether it is Vegetarian, Vegan or contains meat is one of the best things you can do to ensure your child’s health. Not to mention help them to remain energized with slow burning foods that will let them to think more clearly and focus on the rest of their day.
Also, lunch boxes are cute. Just saying.