Have you been following the news about school lunches lately? Yikes. The drama! As federal guidelines continue to be tweaked, requiring more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, there’s been more than a little push back from parents, schools, and foodservice companies that manage school cafeterias. I, for one, don’t see what the big deal really is. There are plenty of times in a child’s life when he or she is subjected to choices made by adults in his or her best interest; this is simply an occasion where adults need to ensure kids are given healthy choices. If a family is facing poverty, a school lunch may be the only balanced meal available that day to the children in that household. While I keep hearing the argument that “parents are free to pack an alternate lunch if their child doesn’t like what’s being served”, I have a hard time with this logic. For children receiving a free or reduced price lunch, there may not be enough resources at home to pack a lunch each day. These kids may have to eat what the school serves, and it becomes even more important for these children to have a meal rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. Not to mention, I would think that parents who do choose to pack a lunch from home would also want their children to be eating a nutritious, well-balanced meal. In short, I don’t see that logic for providing junk food for lunch.

I am a parent, and I’ve worked in many schools; I get it that kids can be resistant to healthy eating. I do, really. I’ve heard teachers complain about seeing the salad bar passed over and the whole-grain roll tossed in the trash. My own children have literally cried at the sight of broccoli on their plates. But does this mean we should abandon our efforts and serve the kids what they will readily eat, counting ketchup as a vegetable serving and providing sodium-laden pizza and hot dogs? No! We need to consider the role of education in making healthy lifestyle choices. What we put into our children’s bodies is directly correlated to being ready and able to learn at school. Instead of throwing our hands in the air and insisting that kids will refuse healthier options, perhaps we should consider a more holistic approach. Maybe we can think of ways to educate children, from a young age, about why certain foods help our bodies grow and function and others don’t. Perhaps we can help them understand that healthy foods make them stronger, smarter, and can help them be better athletes. According to this article (and many others), “Research consistently shows that children who have initially rejected a food must be exposed to it at least 8 to 10 times for the food to be accepted.” Persistence will pay off.  We shouldn’t give up on this, parents and educators. 

Does your child eat school lunch? Have you seen positive changes? Has your child reacted to them, either positively or negatively? I have not-so-fond memories of cardboard pizza slices and colorless, canned wax beans from my school lunch past…I’m hoping things have improved in the past 30 years!

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