With all the talk of childhood obesity these days, there’s a push to get healthier food in cafeterias. First Lady Michelle Obama is drawing attention to what children eat with her Let’s Move! initiative. Celebrity chef Jamie Oliver has called attention to childhood obesity and school lunches for years. Chicago school speech pathologist Sarah Wu chronicled a year of eating school lunches on her blog, Fed Up With Lunch (now out as a book, following the natural life cycle of all blogs). Last December, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law, which mandates healthier foods in school breakfasts and lunches.
So how are we doing?
Well, adequately. The new law has no strict timeline on when to implement changes, so many schools are still serving packaged food. The new law is prompting some drastic measures as well. In October, the Senate rejected a proposal that would limit the number of times a week schools can serve starchy vegetables. I have to applaud the vote. I understand wanting to provide healthy lunch options, but can’t we find a happy place between cookies passing as grains and the Federal government regulating how often kids are allowed to eat potatoes?
In the meantime, Congress made a high-profile vote to let pizza with two tablespoons of tomato paste count as a serving of vegetables. It’s been the source of many jokes and ridicule, but all joking aside, it’s a way to schools to say they’re providing more nutrition than they actually are. It’s a boon for frozen pizza manufacturers, but bad for students.
Elsewhere, some schools are struggling to meet the new nutritional demands. Schools in New York and Connecticut have raised lunch prices to meet demands, much to the chagrin of parents. Some have been quick to point out that new, healthy food regulations will cause a raise in prices, but would be counter-productive to cook nutritious meals that parents can’t afford to pay for.
Would you eat lunch from the cafeteria? Are there healthy organic options, and do those options cost significantly more?