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Friday, September 12, 2008

Lunch Anyone?

Like these Bento boxes? Yes, some people have way too much time on their hands, but I can just imagine what Young One would do if he had this for lunch (well, he wouldn't eat most of it, but he'd have legions of fans surrounding him, shouting, "COOL!"

I grew up in a small town and while I can't say I'll ever live in one again, I have to admit, there were some things that were so much better than where I live now. One of them was school lunch. Our Lunch Ladies (and yes, they deserve the capital Ls) were fantastic. One of them came in every morning before dawn and made, from scratch, enormous cinnamon rolls. When we would stagger in the doors and fumble to our lockers, we were greeted with their sweet cinnamon scent. I used to split one with my friend Jennie. We'd munch on it during chemistry class (taught by a man who should have retired years ago, who I'm sure laughed at us as we thought we were getting one over on him).

Lunch was also fantastic. There was the standard line, a fast food line with hamburgers, a salad bar, etc. For the most part, everything was homemade. Oh sure, there was the standard government surplus crap that each school is required to utilize because their budget is so tight, but we definitely could find fresh fruit, vegetables, and variety.

Flash forward to my son's school, which in comparison to many surrounding schools has a really decent menu. BUT, it still has a long way to go. We teach our kids everything. Why is nutrition taught, but not really modeled? One of the things that we stress at our house, as hokey and silly as it sounds, is "Did you eat a rainbow today?" Meaning, did you eat a diet varied in color. Try finding a red carb (well, besides that questionable pasta that comes out at Christmas or red velvet cake, which I think could be rationalized as a vegetable. Chocolate is technically a bean, right?) I started asking Young One this when he was really young. He now rolls his eyes when I ask him, but I still think it's a very important and valid question.

We look at his school hot lunch menu together every month. He takes a look at it alone and circles the things that he thinks he'd like to eat. This does two things for me. First, and foremost, it gives me an idea of how many lunches I need to make this month (and shop for.) Second, it gives me a chance to look at what things sparks his appetite and gives us a chance to talk about good nutrition. Through him, I've learned that the pears are always hard at school, that the chicken nuggets bounce, and that chocolate milk once came out of a kid's nose when he laughed. A quick email to the nutrition director worked out a solution to the pear problem (order them earlier, please), an order to avoid anything with the word nugget in it was issued, and I topped his chocolate milk story with one about a kid who could pull a spaghetti noodle through both nostrils.

Our school does offer whole wheat pizza crust, but when you offer pizza up to 9 times a month for lunch, does it really matter if you add a little whole wheat to the crust? I know it's a balance of what kids will eat and what the budget can allow, but studies show that there are less discipline problems and better learning occurs when good nutrition is offered at school lunch. We, as parents, have to demand that our kids aren't fed by the lowest bidder. In our state, and many, our school lunch supplier also supplies prisons with their food. I, for one, would be willing to pay more to get better options for my son. Amazingly, when you put those options in front of the with the age old "appetizer" of hunger, they eat them.

As I write this, I'm realizing right at this moment, my son is sitting down to his lunch. I know, that I can't control whether he eats what we packed or not. Sometimes, I'm surprised at what comes back home and what gets eaten. It's great knowing, though, that once it's in front of him, he usually eats most of it and having some control over it, feels good.

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