Friday, September 17, 2010

Friday Fan Club: School Lunch Reform

Back to school is on my mind as are all the issues around feeding our families breakfast, lunch and dinner. So this post is a shout-out to some of the bloggers, twitter mavens, and policy wonks who are advocating for real change in the lunch room.

School lunch is a personal issue for me now as my youngest started Kindergarten at a large public school this week.  I'm packing her lunch, in a special new lunch box, just like I did for her in pre-K. Much to my chagrin, lunch is turning out to be her least favorite part of the day. The food isn't the issue; it's the same heart-shaped jelly sandwiches or cheese sticks and veggies. The problem is the loud, chaotic nature of being in a big cafeteria, with literally hundreds of kids doing lots of things that might not be eating. It's hard to celebrate and enjoy lunch when you are hunkered down. It makes me think a bit about how environment affects how much and how well kids are eating in the school cafeteria. That hotly-debated chocolate milk is perhaps a comfort food, for reasons beyond sugar.

Most school lunch reformers are trying to change the larger system and improve the food that's presented to all kids as they pass their cafeteria trays through the line. For families that can't pack lunch from home, schools should be able to provide good food. School lunch reform advocates have been making progress locally, with fresh ideas like salad bars and farm-to-school collaborations. Nationally, there is a big push for more money and improved guidelines in the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR). Recess and outdoor play, either after or before lunch, is another important piece of keeping kids healthy and ready to learn during school time. It's great that these issues are finally getting attention and action.

For my own child, I hope I can use her little lunch box as a token of home amid the confusion of "big-kid" school. To be sure, planning and packing healthy from-home lunches everyday is a hassle and it adds to the daily morning juggle. But, like family dinner, I think it's worth it. When a friend asked if I was packing lunch, I expected her to remark on the poor quality of institutional school lunch. Instead, she said, "Food from home can be such a comfort." Words of wisdom.

School Lunch Reformers (and Moms/Dads who pack great lunches!) that I Follow
(Please add to this list in comment section!)
Fed Up With Lunch
One Hungry Mama Back to School Lunch Post
The Lunch Tray 
Healthy Schools Campaign
Time For Lunch Slow Food USA
Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution
The Lunch Box
What's Cooking Blog
Brooklyn Food Coalition School Reform Group
Bento Lunch
Today I Ate a Rainbow
Jolly Tomato


  1. Thank you so much for including us in your awesome post! It's a huge honour to be a part on that group!! It's parents like you that are making a difference one healthy child at a time! Way to go!!!!

  2. Yes! Thank you! GREAT post and great company. Humbled.

  3. Grace - What a great roundup of fellow parents who are working hard to help improve school lunches. Our kids deserve it!

    We pack a lunch for our kids everyday for a variety of reasons and I've not found it much work at all. We plan for it at the beginning of the week so that I'm not spending any time "thinking" about what to pack. We've got plenty of gear that is always ready to go, and that helps too.

    I also wanted to share with you a huge improvement we just experienced at school. Last year we had a new cafeteria which was really converted from the old gym. It was SO loud in there. When I worked lunch, I could barely take it. The kids too. We installed cushions on the wall like they have in music rooms and what a difference it made! My son noticed on the first day of school. I've also heard that draped fabric banners can make a big difference too. Good luck! Food should be enjoyed and not eaten in that kind of environment.

  4. wonderful encouraging post - to take time to make lunch, to see what can be done in your own school to change the sound level, to encourage educators to think about the whole child and healthy learning.

    glad to see this shout out to other resourceful folk too. getting the word out and networking is so powerful!

  5. I"m thrilled that there is a new wave of mommies who care about school lunch. I've been working on this issue for 15 years now, its time for some replacement troops!

    I'm thrilled that you all are blogging and tweeting and networking about this very important issue.
    But here's a few reality checks.

    #1 Please don't think for a minute that brown bagging a great lunch for your child will really help in the long run. Its essential for all of us to roll up our sleeves and devote real time and energy to this issue.

    #2 Please remember that Obesity is merely the tip of the iceberg: just a symptom of a bigger problem

    #3 We all must connect the dots between personal health and planetary health. Our wacky weather is an important wake up call

    Let's see what we can do to all work together to build this movement beyond the fringe health conscious foodie groups. We must work to get this into mainstream thinking who care most about convenience.
    After all, sick kids and a hot planet is just not convenient!

    Susan Rubin

  6. Wow! Thank you for your comments and support! I esp. appreciate Gina's tips about sound-proofing and Susan's Rubin's long-term perspective. Thanks for adding your resources.

  7. Great list, Grace! Thanks for mentioning Jolly Tomato. We're following you and the others on the list to learn more about making lunches better for kids.


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