What Are We Feeding Our Kids?

I don’t know if you feel like I do, but I think you should, and this makes me angry.

On my way home yesterday, I passed by the local elementary school in front of which there was a ‘food’ delivery truck parked, with all the brands and their logos it contained emblazed on its sides.

And in broad, striking letters across the top, it read, “LAUSD School Meals – Nourishing the Student Body” and below, “Proud Partners of the LAUSD Healthy School Lunch Meals Program”.

Surely, these vendors must only make up a part of what we’re feeding our children, I thought futilely for about a moment.

Sadly, I already knew better.

We all know the state of food (can we still call it that?) that is given to our kids in their school lunches and breakfasts is appalling, but out of curiosity, I wanted to see just what a ‘healthy’ lunch program in my own neighborhood might consist of.

Easy enough to find, as the sample menus are printed online.

A week’s lunch menu included:

  • Italian Calzone, Yogurt and Granola, Milk, Orange, “Yummy Broccoli”
  • Mesquite Drumstick, Chicken Caesar Salad, Tater Wedges, Peaches, Dinner Roll, Milk
  • Burger, Ham and Cheese Sandwich, Pineapple Swirl Cup, Milk
  • Taco Bean Dip, Corn, Chips, Roll, Milk
  • Chicken Sandwich, Pinto Beans, Applesauce and Milk

I had to check breakfast while I was at it, although I had no reason to think there was any ‘healthy breakfast program’ and even if there were, judging by what was being considered a healthy lunch, I can’t say it would have been any different.

A week of breakfast included:

  • Cereal, String Cheese, Milk, Apple
  • Breakfast Burrito, Orange Juice, Milk
  • Go-Gurt, Cereal, Apple, Milk
  • Cinnamon Pancake, Apple, Milk
  • Egg and Cheese Pocket, Pear, Milk

With an estimated 60 percent of children in schools offering the lunch program eat school lunch, and about 37 percent of children in schools in the breakfast program eat school breakfast[1].

With the current population of children under age 18 in the United States is at an all-time high of 74.2 million[2], we’re talking nearly 45 million kids eating the lunches and roughly 28 million starting their day off with a highly refined cereal, pancake and plenty of homogenized, low fat (read- high in sugar) milk.

While it was slightly refreshing to see one serving of vegetables in the form of the broccoli, not knowing what is done to it to serve it as ‘yummy’ broccoli could be troubling and the other veggies represented- the lettuces in the salads, are likely to be doused in commercially prepared Caesar dressing as indicated by the entrée titles.

So in other words, not good enough.

What is it going to take to undo this incomprehensible disconnect we’re demonstrating between what we are putting in our bodies and how fat and sick we’re getting as a country? And what’s worse yet, we’re giving this junk to our children?

I’m not even a parent (being a dog mom aside for the moment) and this makes me furious!  

We can’t just leave this alone, accept as fact that we can’t do anything and just continue to allow these practices to occur.

Yes, budgets are excruciatingly tight but the answer is not to trim the nutrient density of what we’re feeding our kids by increasing the amount of refined food industry products and forgoing fresh foods.

What is the answer, then?

We’ve got to figure one out together and make it up as we go, and as I see it, there’s no other option because what we’re doing is not working.

Organizations such as The National Farm to School Network (NFSN) which is an information, advocacy and networking hub for communities working to bring local food sourcing and food and agriculture education into school systems and preschools and  Project Produce: Fruit and Veggie Grants for Schools which offers $2,500 grants to assist in expanding students’ palates, and encouraging increased consumption of and exposure to fresh produce through engagement in lunchroom education activities that encourage students to taste new vegetables and fruits offered either in a dish, cooked, or raw, providing funds to support the food cost of these activities which are designed to touch every child are just two examples of individuals coming together to make change.

We’ve got to do something. All of us. If we don’t, about 32 million more Americans will become obese by 2030, upping obesity rates to 42 percent of the U.S. population according to a the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention[3].

That’s just fourteen years away, so we’re talking about the very kids who are in school right now, eating this non-food with low nutrient density and high on the sugar, salt and undoubtedly, a long list of stabilizers, fillers and dyes.

This has to be a priority; the alternative is inconceivable.

[1] “The Future of Children, Princeton – Brookings: Providing Research and Analysis to Promote Effective Policies and Programs for Children.”  – The Future of Children –. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016

[2] The Changing Child Population of the United States – The Annie E. Casey Foundation.” The Annie E. Casey Foundation. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Feb. 2016

[3] “Fat Forecast: 42% of Americans Obese by 2030.” ABC News. ABC News Network, 07 May 2012. Web. 26 Feb. 2016