I used this snow day as an opportunity to read up on some food issues and came across this interesting article in The New York Times. The issue of unhealthy foods being served in schools is not new by any means. The intent behind school lunch programs was positive, but as many school's already have limited budgets for textbooks and computers, it seems that the cheapest food is what will get served. My desire to stay away from all things processed began during my freshman year of high school and I remember my excitement when I learned that my school was going to take some initiative and make our school "healthier." While the PTA baker sales did come to include some freshly cut melon and grapes, not much else changed.
Sodas were swapped for things like orange-flavored bottles of high-fructose corn syrup and packs of Oreo's were traded in for the brand's 100-calorie version. Here's the thing about packaged foods; if something says "low calorie" or "low fat," it probably means that either chemicals or sugars were added to it to make it that way. While some school cafeterias may offer salads and fresh fruits, once that 3 o'clock bell rings, students are stuck with the vending machine as their only hope for a snack.
If you have a child who goes to a school that is not interested in making changes in the food it serves, bring it up at your local board meeting or write a letter to the Superintendent. An excellent example of how the foods served in schools can alter the eating habits of children in general is Morgan Spurlock's "Super Size Me." The film covers school lunch programs, among other domestic health-related issues, and is a real eye-opener. Until our schools make advancements toward fresh, chemical-free meals and snacks, I suggest brown-bagging it.
One of my favorite after-school snacks in high school was banana protein muffins and honey-wheat sticks from Trader Joe's. The muffins had chocolate chips in them (can you say kid-friendly?) and were supper-filling. I also always made sure to have a piece of fruit on hand as well as an all-natural snack bar so I didn't have to fall for any of those vending machine traps.
Schools are not the only places that can lead us toward processed foods. Ever had to stay late at work unexpectedly with only a bag of pretzels and the candy bowl as your source of food? Pack yourself and your kids some healthful snacks for the day to avoid those last-minute lack-of-food dilemmas.
No matter what age you are, though, you have at some point been in a school where you were stuck eating overly-processed french fries and gelatin-filled fruit-flavored snacks. Look back to those days and ask yourself this: our supermarkets have expanded themselves to include competitively-priced, all-natural or even organic food options, so why haven't our schools? Just some food for thought.
p.s.- Slow Food USA is an enormous advocate for real food in school cafeterias, so check out their website for updated information!