Healthy School Lunches at Last!

fries

I live in Chicago, and one of the more interesting local news stories of the last few weeks has been the planned overhaul of Chicago Public School cafeteria food.  How many parents out there hand their children money each week so that they can purchase a school lunch? Do you know what they are purchasing or even the options available to them?  The problem is that we assume that children are taken care of in schools.  But this isn’t always the case.Over the years, there have been an increasing number of stories about violence in schools, from grade school through high school and even college.  But what about the everyday risks we don’t think of that are hurting children the 9 months they are in school?

The Chicago Public School system (CPS)  currently offers nachos everyday for lunch as well as breakfast items like doughnuts and Pop-Tarts.  Pizza, burgers and fries are also standard lunchtime fare.  Natural, vibrant green, orange and red colored fruit and vegetables are conspicuously absent in a place where artificial cheese sauce reigns supreme.  The healthy food selection is so poor that even a group of CPS students banded together to protest their limited options.

The graph below is taken from the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago Children.  Both preschoolers and elementary school children are well above the national obesity average, and these numbers have been steadily increasing over the years.  Currently, Illinois ranks 4th worst in the nation for numbers of obese children.

chicago-obesity

Parents,  students and many organizations have spoken.  They are demanding healthier options, and starting in June they will get it.  Nachos will be served only once a week in high schools and once a month in elementary schools.

School officials defend their lunch menus claiming that they are giving the students what they want.  Does that seem crazy to anyone else?  Would we let the students bring weapons to school because they wanted to?  This may seem like an extreme example, but the point is that adults are expected to guide kids and help them make good decisions, even teenagers!

No one is saying we should strip out all the “bad ” snack food.  Who doesn’t enjoy nachos and pizza every once and a while? But shouldn’t school lunches be somewhat representative of the choices they will have to make later in life?  This means at the very least providing them with the option to eat fruits and vegetables. Thankfully, changes are being made in Chicago Public Schools – vegetables will be served 3 times a week and schools will also offer at least 1 whole grain food each day.

I hope that these types of changes begin to happen across the country.  After all, kids spend a lot of their childhood in schools, so shouldn’t they be taken care of?

Does anyone have similar changes happening in your area?

Set a good example in your home and serve some of these healthy and delicious foods to your kids. Now you can have your nachos and eat them too!

Healthy English Muffin Pizza

Vegetarian Black Bean Nachos

Turkey Burgers

Baked Sweet Potato Fries

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  • Terri

    I agree with the opinion on school lunches. I work in a cafeteria in WI and we are getting better at serving more fruits and vege’s. Each day we have choices of fresh fruits and vege’s that the children can take and you would be amazed at the questions the kids are asking now if this is healthy or if that item is healthy. If we can get parents to start at home introducing these items and whole grains it would make our job a lot easier. We tell the kids to at least try the food, some will and some won’t but the ones that do is a step in the right direction. I only wish that we could get away from all the processed foods that we serve for lunch.

  • http://www.recipe4living.com AllisonEvans

    Terri,

    Thanks for your comment! I was hoping someone who worked at a school cafeteria would respond! It’s refreshing to hear that kids are actually asking about what they are consuming, a much needed step in the right direction.

    I agree that getting ridding of or at least limiting processed foods is necessary. If kids are too accustomed to the overly-salty, sugary taste of processed foods, getting them to enjoy real food, fruits and vegetables, will be that much harder.

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