Wednesday, October 24, 2012

So What’s Up With School Lunch?

The one complaint that I have heard around school this year that has been repeated over and over, and has come from more than one source, has been about school lunch, more specific, the changes in school lunch. My first year as principal at North Fayette three years ago, I met with student council members, primarily seniors, to discuss matters relative to them at school. We discussed a number of things, and when I gave them a chance to bring up things that they were concerned about, I was surprised that no one brought up lunch. Every other place I had been as an educator, there were at one time or another, issues with lunch. I had seen walk-outs, I had seen “bring a cooler to lunch day,” I had eaten far too many meals myself that were simply something thawed and warmed up next to something out of a can. For full disclosure, I also was a principal at a school with awesome lunches, so good that my wife came to school for lunch with me every other Wednesday for French dip sandwiches on fresh-baked buns! But at that meeting, no one brought it up, so I did. And, after some quizzical looks, the students told me that they were fine with the lunches, and in fact, they thought they were much better than they had been in years past. Carol Stanbrough was new to the position of food service director at that time, and she had made some very good upgrades, at least in the eyes of the students.

Something that has impressed me in the three years I have been here has been Mrs. Stanbrough’s willingness to try new things to provide students with options that they will find attractive. I see and hear her on a regular basis asking students what they think, getting feedback so that she can put together menus and offerings that the students will like. Believe me, that is not common among food service directors. And, I choose to eat at the school quite often, compared to other schools where I worked. Our cooks provide quality food for our students to eat, and a lot of variety. And yes, there have been changes to what is served.

To understand the changes that have been made, we really do not have to look much further than our hallways. Actually, North Fayette is in better shape than most, pun intended! But the reality is that the youth of our nation are fat. Heck the adults of this nation are fat! I’m fat! According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2008 20% of children age 6-11 are obese, which is an increase of 13% from 1980. For older kids, age 12-19, 5% were obese in 1980, compared to 18% in 2008. While those are the obesity numbers, when you add in those kids that are overweight, in our nation over 1/3 of all kids are going to fall into the category of obese or overweight. That does not bode well for their future, and if you want to get crass, it does not bode well for our health care system in the future, which will be stressed by patients with problems related to poor nutrition and the effects of being overweight or obese. I have no way of knowing what the percentages are at North Fayette, but I can tell you that we have kids that are overweight, and a few that would quality as obese.

What is frustrating to me is that this is yet another example where the school is being asked to do the parent's job. There is no way that kids are obese because of the school lunches that have been provided in recent years. It has been years since we served a lot of the “fatty foods.” Yes, we need to take responsibility for kids having access to vending machines and all of the goodies that were sold, and we did exploit kids with easy access to those items in order to subsidize some of our programs. However, when you add up to the total at the end of the day, kids consumed a lot more calories at home than they did at school. The quality of food that many parents are putting in front of their kids is not good! Toss in the lack of exercise kids get outside of the school day, and we have a health crisis! On the exercise front, we are shifting toward more exercise in P.E. I find it ironic that some parents and kids question why they should have to take P.E. It’s for their health! It won’t matter how much they learn in other classes if they don’t live to use it!

It does bother me a great deal that we have been forced to reduce portion size for our student athletes, or they have been required to purchase more than one lunch at a time. Those kids are burning up a lot of energy at practice. That is a huge Catch-22 that will need to figure out. However, the food that is being put on student’s plates is very healthy, with a lot of vegetables and fruits available for the kids. Some of the “rules” seem to reach too far, such as portion size for ketchup. Like a lot of legislation, it seems like it gets messy in the details. Hopefully a little common sense prevails as we get a little more comfortable with these new rules.