School Lunch or Satan’s Mozarella Sticks?

by Denis Faye - The Nutrition Nerd | February 9, 2011

Why are American kids getting fat? A new University of Michigan study looking at 1003 Ann Arbor sixth-graders reveals all kinds of reasons. While a generally junky diet didn’t seem to make a difference, obese kids tended to drink more soda, exercise less, and watch more television. And the biggest surprise/not surprise of the study was that school lunches made a huge impact. Kids who ate school lunches were 29% more likely to be obese than kids who brought lunch from home.

In case you’re curious, here’s what’s on the menu today at my daughter’s elementary:

  • Tony’s Famous Mozzarella Sticks with Marinara Dipping Sauce.
  • Tasty Green Beans.

For the record, it is the only time all week that a green vegetable shows up, the only other vegetable being the golden sweet corn that accompanies Thursday’s hamburger – although I’m betting that’ll be overshadowed by the tater tots. And, honestly, if you set down a tray of fried cheese and green beans in front of your kid and walked away, which one would he or she plow into?

I let my kid have school lunch once a week. I hate it, but I understand the gave-and-take of parenting. I don’t want her to be that one “tofu kid” that every school has. I remember the tofu kid from my grade school. He was anemic and played violin. Of course, he is now so rich that he could buy the entire internet, were he not too busy real estate flipping Caribbean island nations, but his childhood pretty much sucked.

I digress. My point was that school lunch, to my daughter, is a decadent pleasure and that’s just wrong. There are underprivilaged kids with subsidized school lunch who have no choice but to eat that crap every day. I doubt they’re complaining, but their wasitlines, arteries, and insulin levels sure are.

Last December, Obama announced the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, which is supposed to clean this mess up.
The webpage includes a “before and after” sample menu including, ironically, cheese sticks on Wednesday:

And here’s the recommended improved menu:

That would be awesome, but I don’t see it happening. Those congressmen and senators are going to take one look at what it would cost to feed our nation’s children like that and laugh. Their kids all go to private schools anyway, so why look out for other people’s kids? That’s not the American way! Let them eat cake!

And for the record, I googled “Tony’s Famous Mozzarella Sticks” and got nothin’. If they’re not on Google, they’re not famous. Truth in advertising, you peddlers of portliness.

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5 thoughts on “School Lunch or Satan’s Mozarella Sticks?

  1. Anonymous

    Denis, I don’t think the cost of providing healthy meals to our children should be much different to the junk currently offered. The UK radically changed their school meals for the better with the help of Chef Jamie Oliver who was given the same budget but produced a nutritious school menu. He also came to the USA to endeavor to do the same thing here.

    One can only assume that the actual cost to the government must come from the manufacturers of this junk, who must “donate” enough money to the government so that they keep forcing the rubbish down our cherubs throats on a daily basis. Who said bribery and corruption wasn’t alive and well!

  2. D Faye

    I’d agree with you if all things were equal – and I totally agree with you in that second paragraph – but we have a really unbalanced agricultural system. If it’s not made of corn or soy, it’s more expensive to buy. Have you seen Food Inc.” It explains it really well.

    Remember, in the 80s the government tried to cu school lunch corners by counting ketchup as a vegetable.

  3. Anonymous

    I have seen Food Inc, in fact watching it with my youngest son is the thing that turned him into a Tofu child, he now at age 12 takes a bag lunch everyday. Rebalancing the agricultural system can only be done with consumer demand. Unfortunately there is a huge imbalance in the USA of people who are prepared to eat the GM corn & soy made into something edible and those who don’t.

    As a British person who has lived in the USA for the past 5 years the things that shocks me still to this day are that you never see livestock, and vegetables (other than corn) in the fields and this does not seem disturbing to anyone. There also seems to be a huge sparsity in basic cooking skills, my case in point that the school meals require only assembly rather than any cooking skills. It is hardly a surprise that these kids grow up not knowing any other way.

  4. D Faye

    Ya know, I went to see Michael Pollan and Eric Schlosser speak last night and it was a bit of reminder of how right you are. It also got me thinking about my one hot lunch a week choice, which I’m a little uncertain of. I’d rather she not eat that school lunch, but I find that when she takes part in a decision, it’s much more likely to stick with her. For example, even though I don’t eat meat, I’ve never limited her meat intake. Over time, she’s seem my eating habits and asked lots of questions. Now she doesn’t ask for meat anymore. I think it depends on the child.

    Schlosser talked about his own eating habits and mentioned that we’re not perfect, but we need to work back from there. I lived in England for a while and wasn’t really blown away by their agriculture, so I don’t know if comparing them to America is fair, but at the same time, I agree that our monoculture is really lame. People are shocked – that’s why the locavore movement is on the rise.

  5. Anonymous

    I agree that most school lunches are not healthy and far from ideal from what school kids should be eating but I think the statistics could be misleading and blaming it on school lunches may not be completely fair.

    Most kids who take lunch to school, their parents are most likely packing it for them. So the kids who don’t have parents who pack school lunch for them probably don’t have good dinners cooked at night or are eating out which could contribute to the obesity rate.

    I definitely think there should be an overhaul of school lunches, especially since school lunch and maybe breakfast are the only meals some kids get that day, but it’s also looking deeper at the root cause.


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