On School Lunches…

Another school year is upon us, and that means that children are once again subjected to the abuse that is the federally-guided school lunch program.

We decided to allow F one school lunch a week as a treat. After the first school lunch, we’ve put an all-out moratorium on it. You see, F doesn’t react well to high-fructose corn syrup. Her behaviour goes bonkers within a few hours, and it takes her a couple of days to recover, culminating in an ugly, whiny mess of being unable to deal with anyone or anything. F’s lunch on friday consisted of hot dogs (contain HFCS), Cheetos (HFCS), and fruit snacks (HFCS). The whole weekend was downright ugly. Naturally, I’m taking an interest in what they’re serving the kids at school, and what I’m seeing isn’t pretty.

I’ve asked the school district for ingredient statements on their menu, but haven’t heard anything yet.

On Tuesday, she turned 7, and we told her she could buy her lunch (so she wouldn’t pack one) and the rest of the family was going to surprise her with Chick-Fil-A as a treat.

At lunch, I looked around me at what all the other second-graders were eating. It was a sea of brown (although I’ll admit, there wasn’t a whole lot of color in our own lunch, but we eat a lot of fresh veggies at home).

Tuesday’s lunch menu at school was:

  • Whole Wheat Pasta with Marinara Sauce & a “Bosco Stick”
  • Grilled Cheese Sandwich
  • Mini Corn Dogs
  • Bagel with [flavored] cream cheese
  • [Flavored] Yogurt with poppyseed muffin
  • Peanut Butter & Jelly (actually, an Uncrustable)


  • Steamed Edamame
  • Steamed Peas & Carrots
  • Chilled Fruit Cocktail

Beverage options are:

  • Milk (white, chocolate, strawberry)
  • Juice (Orange, Grape, Apple, Fruit blend)

According to the school program, Every lunch “Full Meal” includes students’ choice of one entrĂ©e and self-serve offering bar including menued sides PLUS a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables with two drink choices.

Notice what the vegetables are: self-server offering bar. Federal guidelines mandate a certain amount of vegetables in the school lunch, but for the kids, it’s strictly optional. And they’re soggy, mushy, and have had the life cooked out of them. The number of trays containing fruit or vegetables could be counted on a single hand, and much of that ended up in the trash. Much of the pasta was devoid of sauce. The steam trays containing the vegetables were virtually untouched (and students eat in grade order, approximately 80-100 students per grade)

So, let’s break this down.

Whole wheat pasta. pretty benign stuff, but nutritionally pretty vapid. Lotta carbs, not a lot else. It may be whole wheat, but it’s still pasta.

Bosco Stick. What the heck is that? It’s some sort of breadstick with cheese in the middle. One stick contains 210 calories, a third of which are from fat.. Key indredients: Sugar and partially hydrogenated soybean and cottonseed oil, and vegetable glycerides. Yummy.

Grilled Cheese. ‘Nuff said. Hunk of bread surrounding pseudo-cheese and fried on the griddle.

Mini Corn Dogs. Hot dogs, ergo, HFCS.Wrapped in corn batter. An Iowa farmer’s dream.

Bagel w/ Cream Cheese. The cream cheese was strawberry flavored and contains sugar. Better than even chance that the bagel contains HFCS as well.

Yogurt w/ Poppyseed muffin. Again with the loads of sugar.

Peanut Butter & Jelly. The school can’t even be bothered to make the simplest of sandwiches, they have to use the prefabricated abomination that is the Uncrustable. 38 ingredients, including HFCS (in both the “bread” and the jelly), dextrose, and palm oil, not to mention a whole boatload of preservatives.

Edamame. Pure soy (although to its credit, pretty much unadulterated)

Fruit Cocktail. Let’s take fruit, and then pickle it in sugar water. Brilliant.

Flavored milk (chocolate or strawberry). 30 grams of sugar in a single serving, and the kids usually take two. By comparison, the same amount of Coke contains a mere 26g of sugar. In our school, it’s real sugar, but HFCS is common. 12g of those sugars are from the milk itself.

White Milk. I didn’t see a single kid with this. Otherwise, pretty healthy stuff.

Juice. A serving of this contains 28 grams of sugars, virtually all of it fructose, with no fiber to buffer it (except perhaps in the orange juice)

So, we have a menu loaded with sugars and not-so-complex carbohydrates. The second-graders arrive at 11:30. By 11:45, they’re being herded outside, where they have 10 minutes to run off all that sugar. They technically have the option to stay and finish their meal, but there’s intense pressure from both their peers and from the lunchroom staff for them to get out and play. Net result is that the amount of waste is mind-boggling.

In 15 minutes, these kids will practically inhale well over 100 grams of sugars and starches. They will then have 10 minutes to run it off before it’s even had a chance to hit their system, followed by over three hours in the classroom, punctuated by 15 minutes of recess in the middle. And they wonder why kids get fat and inattentive. Even our school’s nurse cringes at the school’s lunches.

And this is a pretty typical day on the menu. The district swears they’re abiding by federal guidelines. The common thing on this menu is that it’s virtually all made from four of the top five USDA-subsidized crops: wheat, corn, soy, cotton (Tobacco is the 5th).

I think the USDA overseeing the school lunch program (and overall nutritional policy) is not only a massive conflict of interest, but a primary cause behind the obesity epidemic. You can’t have the people setting production policy and subsidies be the same ones overseeing policy related to its consumption. When ketchup (which contains a lot of HFCS) is considered a “vegetable”, there’s a problem.

If the school lunch program and nutrition policy were overseen by health officials (like DHHS or the Surgeon General), I think we’d be a lot better off.