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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, Peter DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. Former superintendent Michael Nelson is a frequent contributor. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Would You Eat These School Lunches?

By Peter DeWitt — December 21, 2014 4 min read
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When I was a kid I used to bring a bag lunch to school everyday. Some years I had a cool lunchbox with a hologram. Other years I used a KISS lunchbox. My mom used to send us with our peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and we could buy milk or chocolate milk. Of course at that time milk was 5 cents and chocolate milk was10 cents.

Personally, I couldn’t get away buying too many snacks because not many were offered, and my mom was a cafeteria lady at school. My favorite lunch I could buy was pizza, which was served on Friday. Looking back it was not the healthiest of pizzas because it looked more like a sponge with sauce and cheese on top than anything you would get in a New York pizzeria, but there was something about it that made me want to buy it at least one Friday a month.

The other day I realized how much lunches have changed when a friend of mine began posting pictures of her child’s lunch on Facebook. Truthfully, she has been doing it since school started in September, but it really didn’t capture my attention until recently. It wasn’t the lunch her child was bringing to school, but the lunches her child was buying from their upstate NY (North of Albany) school.

Want to see one? Let’s guess what this little gem is....

How about this?

And this...

Let’s play a day at the eye doctor. Do you like this one?

Or this one?

Time for one more. How about this one?

In a time when we should be focusing on healthy options for students, this is what some schools are serving to their students on a daily basis. Would you serve it at your Holiday dinner? Would you eat it at your Holiday dinner? Would your family talk badly about you after serving it at your Holiday dinner?

I’m not overly concerned what the reasoning behind such lunches are, and I’m sure there are many reasons for serving such a combination of scary looking processed food. What I’m concerned about is that we think it is ok that children are expected to eat this food.

What’s worse is that in some schools students may have to eat this before they can eat a snack...because somehow eating a cookie would be worse than eating this concoction.


Interestingly enough, I Googled “Healthy School Lunches” and the first choice was Kidshealth.org. The Kids Health website says this,

More than at other meals, kids have a lot of control over what they eat for lunch at school. A kid can choose to eat the green beans or throw them out. A kid also can choose to eat an apple instead of an ice cream sandwich. When choosing what to eat for lunch, making a healthy choice is really important. Here's why: Eating a variety of healthy foods gives you energy to do stuff, helps you grow the way you should, and can even keep you from getting sick. Think of your school lunch as the fuel you put in your tank. If you choose the wrong kind of fuel, you might run out of energy before the day is over."

What if the options offered to your “kid” look like this?

If this is fuel for their stomach (I wonder how quickly this turns into fuel!) how long will they have energy before they run out?

The USDA offers numerous resources for children’s lunch programs. Perhaps it’s just me, but those lunches do not look nutritious to me at all, but maybe I’m just used to meals that look different. If anyone order this lunch at a restaurant, I’m pretty sure they would send it back within seconds of when it appeared in front of them.

This is not the first time students have taken pictures of their school lunches. About a month ago there were several stories about students who Tweeted out pictures of their school lunches with #thanksmichelleobama because the First Lady’s Let’s Move Campaign. The White House responded with saying that criticism should be directed toward school administrators. This is not about blaming administrators nor is it about blaming lunch ladies because they have very little control over what is served.

Meals that are served do not always look like the above, but schools do serve meals like tacos, breadsticks and pizza on a weekly basis. Not all students have to eat those meals, but students who get free/reduced lunch are more likely to buy a lunch than bring one in.

If we keep pointing fingers at one another we will continue to move forward with kids eating disgusting meals, and end up missing the point. Those meals may offer no nutritional value and/or look like they have been processed more than once. And what is the outcome when it comes to learning? Are these meals leading to more student engagement in the afternoon or trips to the bathroom during important academic discussions?

In the End

Over the years as some states were calling for healthier options due to increasing obesity rates in the US, school officials began to ask about the responsibility of parents in the issue. As a school principal I would watch students bring their lunches in from home, and their lunch boxes were filled with cookies, chips, desserts with frosting, and some clearly questionable meals. However, school officials cannot always control the food that comes in from home, but they can control the food they serve.

There are many reasons why schools serve lunches that are...and definitely look unhealthy. None of the reasons are good, and they are probably similar to what parents would say about food they offer at home. “Kids won’t eat healthy meals,” or “High quality food is too expensive,” “We don’t have the budget to pay for healthier options.” As the New Year approaches and we reflect during the Holiday Season, we should take a long hard look at the meals that children are eating in school. The bottom line is that students should not be subjected to lunches that look like something that may have already been digested.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.