The buses are running again, the backpacks are brimming with brand new pencils and notebooks, and at Target, the swimsuits and beach balls have been replaced with sweaters and boots. Yup, it’s that time of year again—school is starting. Thousands of Southland parents will either shed tears of joy or sadness when their little ones head back to the classroom this week, trading lazy (or perhaps chaotic!) summer days for early mornings and homework.
While many moms pack a lunch for their kids each day, many others opt to have their children buy lunch at school. With increasing awareness about the obesity problem in America, parents and schools alike have been striving to serve healthier lunches, ditching the Twinkies and Ding-Dongs in exchange for veggies and whole grains. But the real question remains: Will the kids eat what they’re served?
Last year, schools in the Los Angeles Unified School District introduced a new lunch menu after chef Jamie Oliver visited one of their schools with his TV show “Food Revolution.” Oliver attempted to show the school district how much sugar and junk food the kids were eating each day, and the district took his message to heart. It replaced traditional cafeteria fare with unique, healthier choices like Pad Thai noodles, quinoa salads, veggies, tamales and brown rice cutlets. But the effort fell flat when students began tossing their lunches in the trash, untouched. The kids complained the food was undercooked, not tasty and unappealing. Many sought out junk food on the “black market” at school. And many went without eating and later complained of stomach pains and other hunger-related ailments at the end of the day.
After evaluating the disaster, the district revamped the menu. This week, when school starts, it will now offer a compromise to the 650,000 students who buy lunch. Students will be offered healthier but more appetizing choices like whole grain spaghetti and meatballs, pulled pork sandwiches and burger sliders. The first day menu will include barbecued baked chicken, a whole grain breadstick, a green salad and apple juice or milk. Prices will increase slightly, but district officials are hopeful that students will find the new menu kid-friendly and not toss their meal in the trash.
It seems cafeteria food has been the butt of jokes for decades—from the rubbery Jell-O to the mystery meat. I commend the LAUSD for making an attempt to offer both healthier and more appealing choices to their students, but the real test will be seeing how full the cafeteria garbage cans are when the last lunch bell rings. This brings me to ask: Is it better that kids eat mediocre food rather than not eat at all? And have we, as Americans, created too many “sweet tooths” that cannot be cured with noble attempts like whole grain spaghetti?
Moms (and Dads!) what do you think? Do you believe a revamped school lunch menu will be a success? Do you think our kids still eat too much junk food at school? And what would you do if you discovered your child was tossing lunch and going hungry every day? For those who pack a lunch, what healthier alternatives to Twinkies do you throw in the brown bag? We want to hear from you!