Should I Make My Kid Eat School Lunch?

School may not quite be starting yet, or maybe it is, depending on your area. But, school lunches have been a topic of increasing discussion over the years. Between food allergies, nutrition, childhood obesity, as well as feedback from students and parents, we’ve all started thinking a lot more about what our children are eating at school.

I wasn’t a fan…

I’ll be honest, I usually hated school lunches growing up. Elementary school was the worst. They were bland, looked weird, and my mom cooked way better. Peanut butter and honey sandwiches? Gross, no…and what kind of bottom-barrel peanut butter was that? Junior high was a bit of an improvement. I seem to remember a nacho bar on Fridays. Mmmm….cheese….nachos. High school cafeteria food was similar to junior high, except we were allowed to have chocolate milk every day. Also, our high school sold Domino’s pizza and fountain soda in the foyer. Admittedly, that was something I indulged in far too often. Teenagers probably shouldn’t be eating greasy pizza and Dr. Pepper five days a week.

And I’m still not, now…

School lunches supposedly have improved with the increased focus on healthy food choices and allergy awareness. Perhaps they have improved in some places. But, I’ve eaten lunch with my elementary school-age kid a couple of times. There’s a reason it was only a couple of times. They’re no better than they were when I was in elementary school. Don’t disgrace cheeseburgers like that. It’s just wrong. I love cheeseburgers. You have no idea. The “meat”, and I use that word lightly and with great uncertainty, had little if any seasoning. It was pasty colored. It was all around depressing. The veggie bar for burger toppings consisted of iceberg lettuce, thin tomatoes, and sad looking little slices of dill pickles. I hate dill pickles and for some reason everyone freaking serves dill pickles. Seriously, why can’t there be just a little more variety in the choices for pickles (Bread and Butter FTW!)?! But enough about pickles, especially since they were the least terrible thing about that meal. I also recall another meal with a “grilled” cheese sandwich. I mean, it was heated in some manner to melt the processed sliced cheese. But, grilled? I don’t think so.

Taste the rainbow…

Now, let’s back up to the veggie selections a bit. The cafeteria has a salad bar available daily, and it basically went untouched. I can’t blame the kids because even as an adult that likes vegetables, I skipped it, too, because it looked completely unappetizing. Here’s some tips with vegetables (and fruits). First off: stop.serving.iceberg.lettuce. Iceberg lettuce has basically no nutritional value. Seriously, look it up. It’s mostly water. That also explains the lack of flavor. It’s basically non-melting ice loosely disguised as produce. In fact, that may be where the name comes from. I know someone will probably feel the urge to correct me on the origins of the name. Try to resist being that person. Serve some green leaf lettuce. I personally prefer butter lettuce, but I’d be happy with green leaf lettuce…because it’s actually green, tastes better, and has some vitamins in it. Better yet, serve fresh spinach. Serve produce with color to it. Serve it fresh.

The sad truth…

Unfortunately, I know this will likely fall on deaf ears. After all, we can only do so much to change what other people serve as meals. In fact, the schools themselves have very little control over the situation, either, because of contractual restraints, or financial limitations. Ask your kids for their feedback. Go eat lunch with them a couple of times (or as many as you can stomach…I understand if that number amounts to 0.3). Decide if you’re uncomfortable with what they’re eating, then figure out what to do with that feeling. Maybe your kids will be fortunate enough to be in a school where there’s not an issue. Maybe you’ll realize you want to pack lunch. Maybe you’ll want to try to make changes that help all the students.

What can I do?

If you can get involved with the PTA, or whatever it’s called now (which I’m fairly certain actually isn’t the PTA, but as you can clearly tell I’m not involved in it and don’t remember what it’s called) in a way that affects change, awesome! If you fall into this category, first find out what rules the school district itself must abide by. If they’re under contract with a specific food vendor, their hands may be tied. If not, start with local farmers to see if they can donate produce. I know some areas do this and it really helps boost the nutritional options for school lunches without costing the school district. I’m sure there’s similar options for local ranchers and meat, but I don’t personally know them. If you know this information, please share it in the comments! Get involved however you can, because we all know the impact food has on our health and our minds.

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Katie Reed

Katie Reed

Katie Reed is a 38 year old mom blogger from Salt Lake City, UT. She is married to the man of her dreams and together they have four beautiful boys. Dexter is 9, Daniel is 7, Chester is 5 and Wilder is 2. She writes about living with mental health issues while navigating motherhood. Her blog focuses on tips and tricks for moms, information and parenting news, kid-friendly recipes and crafts. She loves to reflect on the humorous side of parenthood and shares the reality of her life, with a "warts and all" attitude.

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