My Own Private Revolution

The timing of this couldn’t be more ironic.

My First Grader and his recent find

I was at my son’s school. I had gone in to teach Art Masterpiece where once a month a parent takes over the class for an hour to teach the students about fine art and lead them in a creative project.  While I was there I overhead his teacher in conversation with another . I didn’t understand the exchange at the time which centered on his teacher being chastised for challenging activities that were “earning money for the school”.  His teacher’s refrain was that “obesity isn’t worth the earned revenue”. THEN, after school, I saw “the note” and I knew exactly what their dialogue had been about.

It read something like this:

Dear Parents,

Today I watched our class in the cafeteria. I observed first graders getting the main course of chicken nuggets with a side of an ice cream sandwich and another side of a poptart. No fruit  and no vegetable. District policy prevents us from recommending food choices to your children…

What’s a mom to do? Make a sack lunch is the obvious answer but as a working mom, I love the convenience of the school lunch program.

1. I called his teacher, explained that I’d read the note and wanted her perspective. She’s wonderful and her intentions are in the right place but she’s looking for me to step up my parenting skills so that my 7 year old will make a smart choice and ask for broccoli rather than the ice cream sandwich. I’m open to suggestions.

2. I spoke with the school nurse. She’s unquestionably the highest level health professional at the school and is charged with the health and well being of the K-5 population. She told me that if I don’t like those choices for my child, I can go to mylunchmoney.com and block them. Really? Okay. I’m sure the instruction on how to do that was sent home earlier in the year and I must have missed it.

3. Next call, the principal’s office. I read the note to her and could hear total defeat in her voice. She completely empathized with my frustration, agreed that it was district policy preventing anyone from directing my son’s food choices. She offered total support for a position that would oppose the policy and the phone number for the District’s Nutritionist.  The Principal closed with, “if they try to tell you that I’m the only principal who feels this way, push back. We’re all aligned on this one and would love to see change.” Our principal will retire in less than 6 weeks.

4. The District Nutritionist. I called, left a message and waited.  She answered on my second call. The District policy is to put the entree item on the student’s lunch tray and beyond that, it is wide open for the child to choose their side dishes. Okay, so my first grader, his pals and all the kindergartners who participate in the lunch program are offered the choice; do you want green beans or would you rather have a poptart? I confirmed that this notion of choice was not a law or regulation but a policy. And she confirmed that I can block my student’s choice by visiting mylunchmoney.com.

5. A visit to the school website where the lunch menu is posted.  Interesting, I can see the daily choice but there’s not a single mention of items like ice cream sandwiches or poptarts. There is a link to mylunchmoney.com but I need a username and password and I must’ve misplaced that as well as the manual on how to use the site. There’s also a nifty section on school lunch nutrition where I can enter the food items that my child will be able to purchase and it calculates the nutritional value of the lunch. I like this concept and find it odd that neither poptarts or ice cream sandwiches are choices that I can enter into the program.

6. I left a message for the School Board President. Today, an administrative assistant returned my call and told me that I’d need to speak with their legal department. Really?

Dear friends I have to tell you, there’s more to come on this one.

Leave a comment

51 Comments

  1. You go girl!! It’s part of being an American to challenge the inane. Ask them why they don’t just hand out the insulin with the poptarts?

    Reply
  2. A few ideas:

    Make sure your son gets a nutritious breakfast and dinner ~ with fruits and veggies ~ and don’t worry about lunch

    At dinner, ask him what he chose for lunch and why ~ use it as a teaching moment to explain the food pyramid

    Make a game board where he gets tokens for eating fruits and veggies for lunch ~ an bonus points if it’s something he’s never tried before

    Good luck. : )

    Reply
  3. Kimball

     /  April 13, 2010

    What a great topic to address here, I thought schools were starting to have better selections. For some reason, I lucked out with my boys. Our local elementary school did not have a a cafeteria but had a program where they would feature food from restaurants. It would rotate each day between various fast food chains. These restaurants were not ones that my boys were familiar with or liked and they cringed at the thought of eating their food. However, I did give them the option to choose and did not restrict them from participating in ice cream days. There was an experience in my childhood that made me promise never to completely restrict my own children from mainstream junk.

    By the time they hit middle school and high school, they were old enough to make the right choice and wondered when the others would figure out what was in that food. They made there own lunches or took leftover food from home, if you spice up black bean soup it’s great cold. I always had salads in the fridge and had tiny containers for olive oil, balsamic vinegar, and lemon juice for them to pack.

    If anyone can get meet this challenge with the schools, it’s you Tammy. Keep us updated!

    Reply
  4. The ‘earning money for the school’ argument is very disturbing.

    Good luck!

    Reply
  5. Dad

     /  April 13, 2010

    My son told me that purple is a fruit… and everyone knows that poptarts have lots of purple in the middle!

    Reply
  6. Anne Smith

     /  April 13, 2010

    There is a huge school lunch reform movement afoot, and there are champions here in CO… I will get you names/numbers. Congress is also poised to do some federal reforms as we speak. Let’s let our congresspeople know our kids deserve better school food choices!

    Reply
  7. For someone who has no children, I EVEN find this news very disturbing! What is a parent to do? Sigh.

    It is good that you are blogging about this sort of stuff so that other parents can begin to wonder what is happening in their own schools. I know it is tough for parents, but if packing a lunch for children is the only way to ensure they get a nutricious meal, then THAT is what they HAVE to do. The kids will be much better off in the end.

    Reply
    • Yes, you’re right. It just seems unfair that those who have a hard time packing it will be the ones who have to deal with poor nutrition. More later.

      Reply
  8. Lisa H

     /  April 13, 2010

    What a great topic! It inspired a discussion with my kids about the choices they have at school during lunch. They told me that they have a main entree, with a choice that includes a large salad. The problem, though, is that they are only allowed one entree. The side options are usually fruit, with a choice of fresh fruit, but no side salad.
    My kids pack their lunches four days and choose one day to buy lunch. This has worked well for us and it gives the kids an opportunity to go through the lunch line.
    My husband and I will make sandwiches and then the kids choose from an array of food that is set aside for school lunches. One of their favorite desserts is a fruit leather–Fiberful–which adds a fun sweet treat and packed with fiber. When we have fruit on our trees, they love to go pick a tangerine or apple to include in their lunches.

    Reply
    • I think I just need a system in order to make packed lunches happen.

      Reply
      • i was a working mom when mine were that age – and it was tough in the morning. so we posted the lunch menu on the fridge door and looked at it before bed. if they didn’t want the meal? we packed lunch the night before. ok, and sometimes completely forgot about it the next morning… but it worked.

        poptarts? ouch… hold your ground. there’s got to be some way to toss those out. unless Kelloggs is a Lunch Room Sponsor, or something like that!

        Reply
      • Lisa H

         /  April 14, 2010

        We have a shelf in the food cabinet and a drawer in the refrigerator for lunches. They can pick anything they want from those (obviously I stack it with as much healthy stuff as I can, but hey, those Trader Joe’s mini cheese cracker sandwiches are fun). I also bought single serving salad dressings because I tried to do the ecological thing and put them in containers, even the lock-n-lock, but it made huge messes after they used it. I try to make everything grab-n-go easy so the kids don’t spend a lot of time making lunches.

        Reply
    • I’d like to have lunch at your house Lisa

      Reply
  9. Brum

     /  April 13, 2010

    Follow the money. The ice cream and pop tarts are there to make money for the school district. The “policy decision” they have made is money is more important than health. They protect the money flow by prohibiting the teachers from teaching about healthy choices in the cafeteria.

    Reply
    • That seems to be the case! I just read about a Colorado teacher who has faced “discipline” for challenging their program.

      Reply
  10. My last blog article has links to PCRM site, including information on joining the School Lunch Revolution by becoming a school lunch lobbyist:

    http://nrhatch.wordpress.com/2010/04/13/become-a-voice-of-compassion/

    The action day is April 21st!

    Cheers!

    Reply
  11. Tammy,
    I got goose bumps surplus when I read your last line. Thanks for making us aware and thanks in advance for the difference you’ll continue to make.

    Reply
  12. It becomes more and more obvious that policy makers are more interested self preservation than doing what is right for the kids. The teachers are left holding the bag. Obesity in children is at an all time high. If parents choose to feed the children junk, that’s ok. But the institutions that are supposed to serve the well being of our children should know better.
    good luck tammy.

    Reply
    • Thanks Rudy and thanks for stopping by my blog!

      Reply
    • Wow!

      Are you actually saying that parents . . . you, know, the people who CHOSE to bring children into the world . . . are LESS responsible for their OWN children’s well-being than government institutions???

      Did you actually say, “If parents choose to feed their children junk, that’s OK?” Because, quite frankly, it’s not.

      Neglecting a child’s nutritional needs is a form of child neglect, on par with neglecting to take them to the doctor or dentist.

      And when parents neglect the needs of their own children, they have no business complaining when institutions (such as schools) follow their lead. When it comes to the well-being of children, institutions should be secondary. Parents should be primary.

      If we want to maintain hard won freedoms in this country, we need to stop abdicating responsibility for our lives.

      Reply
  13. What a wonderful mother you are! 🙂

    Have you seen chef Jamie Oliver’s TED talk? Here’s the link to his acceptance speech for the 2010 TED award, in which he passionately shares his views, and his plan for global change: http://blog.ted.com/2010/02/teach_every_chi.php It’s 18 minutes and SO worth the time.

    It seems we’re at the beginning of a wonderful groundswell of change, and I applaud you for stepping forth. If we all do something, anything we can wherever we’re able, we’ll help lift us all off the track we’re on. My gosh, my husband and I just watched a ’60s-era movie and we marveled at the differences in physiques in just these 40 years. It’s like night and day.

    I love your tenacity. Though I’m not a mother, I still say *thank* you! ~Julie

    Reply
    • Thank you Julie. Those are kind words. Yes, I’ve seen Jamie’s talk and that’s what I mean about the irony of this situation! Thanks for visiting.

      Reply
  14. That is so frustrating – kids are take packed lunches, mostly and put in fridges, there are limited red days for food (: and good nutrition is encouraged.

    Reply
  15. The fridges are because we live in the tropics and food can go off, but they get to highschool and dont have access to them.

    Reply
  16. Wow! Our grandson’s school lunches are just like your son’s. I’m always shocked at what Blade says he has for lunch. The one really saving grace his parents have right now is he is 8 and his Daddy is a school teacher at the high school. His Daddy always asks Balden what he had for lunch and then they talk about it. Because Blade wants to ‘be like his Daddy’ it works.

    Good luck with your fight! I think it is worth all your effort.

    Linda
    http://coloradofarmlife.wordpress.com

    Reply
  17. Wow! It’s wonderful that you are following through with this. I look forward to hearing what you discover in your journey to healthy lunches for your child and his school. Love the photo, by the way!

    Reply
  18. ozarkhomesteader

     /  May 1, 2010

    Tammy, it’s so good that you are jumping into this battle. What’s crazy is that when kids lose out on nutrition, they lose out on brain power. Isn’t that what schools are supposed to be improving? Imagine what it’s like for the kids whose parents aren’t as able to feed nutritious food at home as you are able.

    Reply
    • You’ve hit on my biggest concern – the folks who never learned this stuff from their parents or even their grandparents. That’s when people like Jamie Oliver can make an impact. I’m very disappointed in my dealings with our school on this issue thus far.

      Reply
  19. Two of my grandsons attend a “green school”–natural light, non-toxic paint, materials, and flooring: no chemicals. The school has a roof garden which grow herbs and vegetables for their cafeteria and they also contract with an organic farmer outside the city. Yes, sometimes lunch is pizza or the regular kid favorites, but snacks are always apples or something healthy, and they are introduced to new foods with the excitement of knowing they grew them. Their parents found the school and sold their suburban house to move there.

    Reply
    • That sounds wonderful! At my older sons’ school, they contract with a few local farmers and then really cook the food as opposed to warming processed stuff. I think that as a whole, we need to get smarter about this stuff because the implications are much larger than lunch hour.

      Reply
    • Wouldn’t it be great if ALL schools were like this ~ maybe some day. : )

      Reply
      • ozarkhomesteader

         /  May 2, 2010

        Absolutely, NRHatch! My husband’s school has a greenhouse and grows during the school year but has no one to maintain a garden during the summer growing season. We live too far for it to be practical for us to take it on. It’s a shame, because the school serves an incredibly underprivileged group of students. Almost 80% qualify not only for free lunches but free breakfasts too.

        Reply
  20. aastricker

     /  June 4, 2010

    This is exactly why I started attending our local Farm to School conferences and then the national Farm to Cafeteria conference.
    Our school doesn’t serve PopTarts or ice cream sandwiches at the elementary level, but the secondary schools do. I quit sending my daughter lunch money. She has to pack a lunch or waste her own money on garbage. My son, still in elementary school, packs his own lunch but is allowed to choose one day a week that he would like to buy hot lunch.
    Our school is filled with young (or young at heart), proactive teachers. Each of us has a raised garden bed outside our door. We aren’t doing much real food from those beds yet, but it is a start. I am speaking with the farmers at our market in hopes of restructuring my snack program for next year. Every little thing you do helps.
    Push.
    Push again, and then push even harder.

    Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.”
    Margaret Mead

    Reply
    • Thanks so much for the inspiration. I continue to work on this but as I’m currently stuck in discussions with the legal department, it’s not moving very quickly. Really love the idea of your conferences.

      Reply
  21. We eat almost all organic, so I wanted my kids to take a bagged lunch to school, but had the same working mom issues. But with a little pre-planning, my kids started making their own around the age of 8. We have pre-cleaned & peeled carrots, apples that just need a wash (or kiwi or banana) and then they add a PB&J sandwich (all organic, of course). A bit boring, but when I tried to get more adventurous, they usually shunned the new foods.

    As an added incentive, we all count our “five a day” (3 veggies, 2 fruits) and this gives them incentive for including the carrots and fruit. It took a little work to get started but now the power of habit is a beautiful thing.

    Reply
    • I think the system that you’ve set up makes sense. Hopefully once school starts again, I can do something similar.

      Reply
  22. This is a lovely post. I love to hear your personal experience because that makes this school lunch thing all the more real. It is a problem for legislators and lawmakers, but it also a problem daily for parents working or not.
    Three things I learned from your blog post–

    First that school districts had the ability to keep schools from advising kids on food choices. HA! That is the PURPOSE of schools-to teach kids!! Why do we think that nutrition education is so taboo or offlimits? It is frustrating. No doubt this bit of regulation was lobbied for by a local school food service company that stands to make more money off your kid eating poptarts than green beans. I am also sure that they would love to eliminate green beans altogether and fire the live person required to cook them, but now I am just getting off topic.

    Second, mylunchmoney.com. What a great concept. I like that a web based medium to get parents more involved. I work full time and am out of the home almost 11 hours each day (which includes my commuting time), I cannot get to my son’s preschool unless I take a day off from work. I always feel guilty about not being more involved, so something that is open 24/7 like the web is a great way for working parents to communicate how they feel about their child’s choices, rather than having to take a day off work to talk with a guidance coulselor.

    Third, I also did not know that any school lunch program considered ice cream or pop tarts a side dish. That’s a big deal because it doesn’t sound like the lunches your kids are being served are up to the national standard. I recwently wrote about the Child Nutrition Act at my blog and mentioned a couple of things about nutrition standards (or lack there of). I invite you to read 🙂

    http://thetableofpromise.blogspot.com/2010/08/child-nutrition-act.html

    Reply
    • Thanks for visiting Christa. I will definitely read your blog. I have quite a bit to update since I wrote that post and it is a topic that I’m very interested in. Loving that there are so many other bloggers also interested.

      Reply
  23. Janet

     /  August 27, 2010

    You would think that they would be interested in making a change that would benefit the kids, instead all they’re doing is making it harder. I also can’t believe that someone would serve poptarts as a side dish. It used to be a snack at my school, but our sides were just as bad, as I said in my blog there were cut-up pieces of cold pizza.

    The mylunchmoney website is a good concept though. I just wonder if they’d be able to keep it all together if every parent started using it.

    Anyway, great blog post! 🙂

    Reply
  24. Good God! Chicken nuggets, ice cream and a pop tart!!?!?? What the… I can’t believe these “adults” can’t intervene on the lunch line. Their hands are tied, but yet they can use them to put the food out there. Wow. I noticed this is from April. Any further updates?

    And this is the first I’ve heard of “mylunchmoney.com”
    Thanks for participating!

    Reply
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