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I’m a journalist, which means I balk at reporting anything before I can suss it out. So I was going to post about this after I’d attended a meeting planned for tonight and talked to more of the people involved and done all those other reporter sorts of things. And I still will. But in the meantime, the parent-blogger-food activist part of me wants to speak. So I’m sharing what I know so far:

A school where I live has managed to fight the tide and introduce healthier lunch options, things like grilled-chicken wraps, bean and cheese burritos, whole-wheat pasta and pita pizzas. There are more whole grains, more fresh fruits and vegetables, and the school encourages kids and parents to submit healthful recipes to be prepared by the food-service folks. Progress, right?

Except now a group of parents (though no one knows just how many) has started a campaign to bring the old food back.

They call themselves “Traditional Lunch Choices,” or “TLC” for short. (If that’s not irony, I don’t know what is. When did “chicken nugget” become a traditional food?) The crux of their argument is this: Their kids don’t like the new food, so they’re not eating it, so they’re coming home hungry.

And since the old food meets USDA nutritional guidelines and already excludes trans fats and includes some whole grains, well, that’s good enough. If the school wants to offer “healthier choices” (their words, not mine), that’s fine, so long as the “traditional choices” are offered, too. Because, the group claims, schools are responsible for providing the food, but not for dictating what that food is.

I get the part about hungry kids. That stinks. And hungry kids don’t learn. So if these kids really aren’t eating, something needs to be done about that. But how much of that is a self-fulfilling prophecy? The group is basing its claims in part on a small survey of kids and on comments from parents, including this one: “My little girl is only in kindergarten right now. She will be eating lunch at school next September, and I know she will not like anything on the ‘newer’ menu.”

This little girl doesn’t even eat in the cafeteria yet, and yet this parent already knows she won’t like the food.

But, OK, let’s say some of the kids really aren’t eating the food. Does that mean you go back to pumping kids full of sugar, artificial colors and other additives that have no place in developing bodies? Food with very few nutrients (despite the USDA’s definition of “nutrition”)? Food that in no way is helping them learn, and in all likelihood is hindering it?

No, it means you visit the lunchroom and see what and how your kid is eating. You encourage him or her to try new things. You don’t talk bad about the new food. You take advantage of the opportunity to submit some recipes you think your kid will like. You work with the school to do what’s in the best interest of your child.

And you realize that while you may have a different opinion, your opinion is not fact. And the fact is that our kids are dying young and developing horrible diseases because of the way we feed them. And if you can do anything — anything at all — to prevent that, why wouldn’t you?

Here’s the group’s website so you can see the argument for yourself. But because these things have a way of disappearing from the web, I’m also sharing some excerpts below (capitalization and punctuation as is):

“The school districts’ responsibility regarding food, is to meet the nutritional USDA guidelines that are set for schools. Beyond that, we should also expect that the district would not allow vending machines to sell soda and candy. After that, the school’s job is to TEACH READING, WRITING, MATH, and other academic fundamentals! THAT is what school is for!”

“Our elementary school has 1st – 5th graders. Ages range from about 6 – 11 years old. They are young children and some are more PICKY when it comes to eating than others. Also, families have varied tastes and choices when it comes to the foods we serve at home; we are all very DIFFERENT and like DIFFERENT things.”

“ADDING healthier choices to the menu is a great idea as long as the hot traditional choices are offered as well!”

What do you think about all of this?

For an eye-opening inside view of school food and those USDA guidelines, check out this article by school-food consultant Kate Adamick. And this one by journalist and food activist Ed Bruske, who guest-posted today over at Fed Up With Lunch, where anonymous teacher Mrs. Q blogs about eating school lunch every day. Also see my post about the school-food movie “Two Angry Moms.”

Update on June 9: Based on changes made to the TLC website this morning, it’s pretty clear the TLC folks were at the meeting last night, but they didn’t reveal themselves even when asked. On the website, they’ve now added objections to the school buying fresh food and to teachers offering food and nutrition education in the classroom (two topics discussed last night). I’ve contacted the TLC folks to see if they’d like to add anything here.

Update on June 11: The TLC website has been edited down to just a few paragraphs. Not sure what that means. I’ve also been e-mailing back and forth with someone (still anonymous) who replied to the e-mail I sent. She has declined to comment. (Everyone at that meeting, except for one principal, was a woman, so I don’t think I’m stretching to use “she.”) But she did share some e-mails that TLC has received privately. They’re nasty, which is unfortunate. I’m grateful the discussion here has remained (mostly) civil and thoughtful.


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