Growing up in the Pacific Northwest, I was privileged with great food from my family; however, I did not always bring a lunch. Parents get busy, life gets overwhelming and a few dollars for lunch becomes the norm. Many lunches came down to a Cup of Noodles or a plain while bagel. Neither option was healthy but the choice came down to time, normally the bagel and cream cheese. Since I had fresh healthy food for breakfast and dinner, the school lunches did not have the worst affect on my body, that I know of today. Many students do not have that healthy food to go home to and the school food is the best and sometimes the only food they have. I do not think the food we are proving our children is good enough.
After teaching in France, I discovered a new way to feed kids. We can feed them with real organic local food. I discovered over time that the meals in French schools were more balanced and more nutritional than half of the restaurants in town. They have a 20-meal cycle that is governmentally approved. According to the European Food Information Council and Legifrance.gouv.fr, “at least 10 meals in the cycle must be accompanied by cooked vegetables, 10 meals with pulses, starchy foods or cereals, 8 meals with a fresh fruit dessert.” This form of regulation is not only creating a standard across all schools but also a standard for all socioeconomic backgrounds.
The United States has struggled for decades to feed our kids properly. Our food is highly processed, full of sugar, and the same thing every week. I do not understand why we do not have water served with every meal. Why is milk or juice the drink of choice for our children? Chef Jamie Oliver is fighting against the U.S. norm of school lunches. He wants kids to have a chance to eat real vegetables and fruit so they can learn and focus better in the classroom. He has joined Chef Ann who has been on the forefront of creating recipes and opportunities for school districts to change how they feed their kids. She is providing the tools needed to really make change in the kitchen.
First Lady Michelle Obama brought attention to school lunches with “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010”. This piece of legislation has had many fallbacks and angry parents and kids. The main concept is to make the portions of school lunches smaller, reduce sugar, and lower sodium. These new regulations are needed but from law to the kitchen it has proven to be a bigger gap. By reducing the amount chicken nuggets given to the children, does not mean that the nugget is any healthier.
As I mentioned above, I have lived and taught in France on two different occasions. This last year, I had gone from substitute teaching in Washington State to Dunkerque, France. The difference in food that was provided for the children was shocking. For three euros, students had a four-course meal with a salad bar everyday, appetizer, warm entre, dessert, and bread of course. For that much money in the United States, students will be given frozen pizza heated up, maybe some carrots, and milk which is full of sugar. The National Dairy Council say that “declines in milk consumption can have negative nutritional consequences, especially if milk is replaced by less-healthy beverages.” They forget to mention how our milk has changed over the years and how much sugar is in our milk today. This is not okay and our kids deserve better.
Since autumn of 2015, Jamie Oliver and Chef Ann have been working on providing awareness and education for our country on school lunches. Actors, TV hosts, chefs, singers, teachers, and students around the States have been noticing RealSchoolFood. I appreciate the efforts they are making and want to support those who care about the food we are giving to our students. Over the past week, I have been working on sharing this information with as many people as I can via social media. I am also encouraging my friends to take part in the act as well and make a sign, take a photo and send it out to their networks too. Not only is the message being sent around, but $1 dollar is donated to #realschoolfood for every share and hash tag.
Throughout my research and investigation of public schools food and nutrition, I also noticed what the food is served upon. In the United States, our cutlery is plastic and polystyrene trays are the norm. Although this may be easier for the schools, it is unfortunately at the cost of our planet. In France, I found myself being served on real breakable plates, ate from silver spoons, and drank water from glass cups. Thankfully, there was no spork to be found. By using re-usable items, the schools cut down on massive amounts of waste and trash. Currently, many schools use polystyrene trays, which cost “0.4 cents each, compared to 0.12 cents for compostable plates.” The Urban School Food Alliance has been working on reducing the number of polystyrene trays in our landfills by “225 million fewer” this past year alone. This is a great start but it is not enough. It is not acceptable the school districts, the state, and the nation refuse to reduce our global waste footprint with the basic switching from plastics to re-usable kitchenware.
The Green Schools Initiative is promoting “Plastic Free Campuses” through the “Plastic Pollution Coalition (PPC)”. Their goal is to limit the amount of plastic waste schools produce. They also want students to also have lunches that go straight from the farm to the school. Since the average student produces “67 pounds of waste during a nine-month school year“, we need to create action now. The “30,000 pounds of waste” from an average middle school lunchroom is damaging our planet one meal at a time. Since the schools and school districts are unable to make this change, we may need a federal program that provides the aid and structure for a more sustainable school lunchroom.