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Confessions Of A School LUNCH Lady

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When I decided to take a break from the corporate world and before I started a work-from-home business, I decided to spend a few years working at my kids' school. I thought it would be a great learning experience to find out what the school system was like and how the teachers related to the kids and such. Boy was it ever a learning experience.

If you ever want to know what your kids are eating at school I would advise you to work in your kid’s cafeteria for a week. Your kid MIGHT eat what you pack when you visit but it'll be a real eye opener when you see how most kids eat. You will be amazed.

With school getting ready to start in my district in 2 weeks I thought I would share what I observed.

School Lunch:

School lunch is full of saturated fats, fatty foods and highly processed, packaged foods and sugar. Most of it has no nutritional value at all. I have seen so many types of meals I would never feed my kids. Lots of school districts offer a salad bar but let me tell you what's at the salad bar; salad, fruit, veggies, popsicles (sugary ones), mayo, ranch dressing, catchup, mustard, ice cream.

After witnessing with my own eyes I can tell you that most kids who eat the schools lunch only get the condiments and or popsicle/ice cream. There are some kids who get fruit or vegetables but most of those end up in the trash. All in all, I would estimate of the kids who eat school lunch, 85 percent are not eating a fruit or vegetable and only eat the dessert and a main course like taquitos, nachos with cheese dip, pizza (with ranch slathered on), brunch with tons of syrup, hamburgers or fried chicken.

Some of the kids who eat school lunch are kids who qualify for free lunch and probably don't get much to eat at home. These kids are eating crap and are undernourished. That may be hard to believe with the obesity issue today, but those bodies are filled with hollow calories offering little nutrition.

Packed Lunch:

Lots of parents send their kids to school with a lunch and feel as if their kids are getting a better meal. I have seen many lunches packed with Lunchables™ (chemicals in a box), sugary granola bars (read those labels-corn syrup), Go-GURT®, fruit snacks (seriously, read the label, it's candy), cereal, Twinkies®, chips, cupcakes, candy, cookies, muffins, bagels, processed cheese sticks and more.

If you can think of it, they are in a lunch box. Some may think that a little snack is ok since you send them with an apple and a healthy sandwich on some whole grain bread. I saw tons of fruit, sandwiches, healthy yogurts and more in the trash can. I even see kids at school with a SODA packed in their lunch!!

Now granted, there may be a kid who has a diabetic issue whose parent needed to send a bit of sugar with their lunch, but wow, it's amazing how much sugar enters the cafeteria. Not only that but it seems every week there is a kid with a birthday who brings cupcakes, doughnuts or cookies for the whole class.

There are fall parties, winter parties, valentine parties, spring parties and other class parties that pump the kids up with pizza and sweets. The worst thing I saw was a girl with a lunch box full of candy. I bought her a school lunch and told her she needs to pack a real lunch every day, that 6th grader always had a decent lunch after that.

Even if you pack your kid a healthy lunch, I guarantee you there is a kid that will be giving out candy and chips at their table. It's a battle I fight every day at school and ... church… and friend’s houses... and relative’s houses… and scouts ... and so forth.

I often find opportunities to talk to my kids about nutrition and help them understand what sugar does to them and how to make the right choices. I have them pack their lunch with healthy items. I am working on reducing my sugar intake and snack intake because I know that I will be their best example. If they see me go for a peach instead of chips, they will notice. If I eat some almonds rather than candy, they will notice.

I would love to see parents put some effort into their kid’s lunches and treats. If some preparation went in the night before, it would be easier in the morning. If they are in second grade, they are big enough to pack their own lunches. Have them pack their own lunches to save yourself some time in the morning. It puts the responsibility on them and they will learn how to eat well.

Again, I challenge you to take a few days and volunteer in your kid’s cafeteria. You will be absolutely amazed.

Add a Comment2 Comments

While my kids were still in schools, the kitchens began preparing real, fresh foods for the cafeterias. While they weren't gourmet meals, they were appealing enough to make a dent in the junk food purchases (a pizza and a taco chain had stalls in the cafeteria). Observing which students were more likely to patron the pizza and taco stalls, I noticed the leaner kids, and even the "oddly dressed," loved the salad bar. It was most interesting to see, and very telling about what kids will go for.

The schools also eventually banned soda vending machines, replacing the products with bottled water, juices and sports drinks.

August 7, 2009 - 4:35pm

I do have to add that my own personal friends have been very respectful with making sure my kids are ok to eat certain foods. They ask what is OK and are mindful not to indulge them when they are visiting.

For that I am truly grateful. I have great friends.

August 7, 2009 - 9:59am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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