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  • Musing: On School Lunches

    The school lunch menu is less than thrilling to me, full of the usual suspects you might expect: chicken nuggets, hot dogs, pizza, PB&J, and spaghetti and meatballs. I know these foods have decent nutritional value, though knowing my child, the healthy side dish would end up neglected – and that’s assuming he ate the main course, which is hardly a safe assumption. I worry, too, that the quality of ingredients used in the lunches is on the low end of the spectrum – highly processed, all conventionally grown and raised, and possibly full of additives.

    Mark Bittman accuses American school lunches as being “third world” today, but I think that’s a little unfair. I can tell LAUSD is trying to be healthy, by serving at least some whole grains, providing a vegetarian option, and serving more than canned fruit cocktail. Of course, I’d love to see a more sophisticated menu with fresh fruit and vegetables, and locally sourced ingredients, freshly prepared on campus. And while I know that there are some schools that do this (Alice Waters and her Edible Schoolyard program come to mind), it’s just not something that’s universal in LAUSD.

    In fact, even though our elementary school is one of the best in the district, I’ve attended many meetings at this point and I haven’t heard a single suggestion regarding the school lunch menu. I’m actually okay with that, because the focus has been on making up for the district’s budget cuts and making sure the kids still get PE, art, a nurse, etc.

    Also, as I mentioned before, time to eat is an issue in kindergarten. One reason to pack a home lunch is more time to eat, since there’s no time spent waiting in line for food. I’m trying to get my son to leave all of his leftovers so I can see how much he eats every day, but for some reason, he keeps throwing all the food out.

    I tried packing warm food in a thermos but my son says the food didn’t stay hot. The problem here is that I can’t tighten the thermos top as much I normally would because then a small hand can’t get it open. And while there is some adult supervision, I don’t want him to waste precious eating time trying to get someone’s attention so his thermos can be opened. Given the obvious safety concern, I’m trying to stick with cold foods.

    I’ve been packing a lot of sandwiches, but it’s tough to find a deli turkey that’s also free of added hormones, antibiotics and nitrates. I’ve found one at Whole Foods that my son seems to like, but I’m sure he’ll get tired of it quickly and we’ll need to take a break. I’ve done homemade Lunchables, too, but those take more time to eat than a sandwich and he keeps saying he didn’t have time to finish his lunch.

    Tomorrow I’m going to try a suggestion I found online for a 50-50 cream cheese and applesauce sandwich on the cinnamon raisin bread I made yesterday. Any guesses on how that will go over? ;) And any suggestions on sandwich ideas would be welcome. (Note: We don’t do PB&J – any other kind of nut – due to food allergies. But oh, how I miss Nutella!)

    Comments

    1. FunkyFrum says:

      I was at the CSA today and there was a lady in front of me gettign six full shares. When I asked her why she had so much, she said she teaches at a local school for kids with autism, and they use the produce for the school lunches. The kids take the veggies and cook them for lunch! So they are learning a skill and how to eat healthy. HOORAH!

    2. Cream cheese and applesauce? On homemade raisin bread? That sounds divine.

      Our godson has tree nut allergies, and their household has switched to sunflower butter as a nut-free option. It's pretty good- even in peanut butter cookie recipes.

    3. I do Cream Cheese and Jelly for my 2 year old all the time and I'm told he does pretty well with that. I also do cheese and crackers pretty often and that seems to go pretty well too.

    4. Mommy Shoes says:

      Trader Joe's has a good sliced hormone-free turkey. You might also want to try some hummus and mini pitas (also available at Trader Joe's).

    5. Gina @ MoneywiseMoms says:

      Can you find a whole turkey or just the breast, cook it yourself, then slice it up? You can also cube chicken and put it on skewers with raw veggies or cheese. My son doesn't mind non-sandwiches (we have the PB allergy too). He'll take pasta salad or leftovers from the night before (even cold).

    6. Chief Family Officer says:

      @Funky – That sounds amazing. What a teacher!

      @Adrienne – Alas, we are dealing with a sunflower allergy as well (found that one out the hard way :(). Cream cheese and applesauce was pretty good, though!

      @Jamie – Hm, maybe I'll try skipping the deli meat in the "lunchables" since I think that's what makes him feel he should be doing lots of stacking.

      @Mommy Shoes – Thanks, I'll have to look for that. Can you believe my kids don't like hummus?! I love it but they won't touch it.

      @Gina – The kids prefer their sandwich meat thin, but I love the skewer idea, and cold leftovers too. I bet that would be okay with him, at least some days. Thanks!

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