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Tuesday, August 28, 2012

School Lunch Soapbox - How to Fix the Problem Without Food

Last week, I wrote about my concerns with the changes to the school lunch program.  To say this sparked a discussion would be a mild understatement.  My Facebook and blog blew up with comments, readers, likes, etc.  Many of you personally messaged me.  I was very excited that so many of you were not just interested in the topic, but had personal, vested interests!

And because I firmly believe that if you're going to criticize something you must offer an alternative, I want to share my vision for the greater solution.  I'm not claiming to have all the answers, but I've got some ideas and I think they merit consideration and discussion.  I'm sure we can use these as the springboard for something even better!

What's the heart of the issue?  Childhood obesity
What are the related issues?  Children and families do not make healthy food choices, children do not have sufficient activity levels

Here are some other solutions that don't involve school lunch:

1.  Reinstate mandatory physical education classes.  
Most states only require 1 credit of physical education to graduate from high school.  That's just one school year of 50 minutes per day of physical activity!  Many elementary kids don't have PE classes every year, nor are they every day.  Often, just one or two times per week.  How will we increase the activity levels of our children if we don't teach them how to be active?  PE classes allow active, kinesthetic learners to use their big muscles.  (Here's my science nerd coming out again...)  The contraction and relaxation of the large muscles is the primary action that blood is returned to their heart. Also the mode of action that lymphatic fluid is returned to the blood stream.  Both of these physical processes are vitally important to the function of our bodies.  Remember how invigorating a brisk walk around the block can be when you're feeling lethargic?  Kids need that even more!

2.  Reinstate or increase recess times for elementary students.
In the interest of time, safety, dollars to pay supervisory staff, etc. many schools no longer have recess (or they have cut back on the amount of time/frequency of recess).  My mom is a veteran elementary teacher, one of the best.  And by veteran teacher, I mean 30+ years in the classroom.  One of her personal student management policies was to never keep a student in from recess as punishment for bad behavior.  She firmly believed that if a kid was misbehaving, making him/her sit for even more time was not the solution.  She found it to be far more effective to allow the student to go outside, experience free and active play, and then return to the classroom with a fresh attitude.  And it worked.

3.  Reinstate home economics curriculum, for all ages.
Do you remember when all schools had a classroom filled with stoves and counters?  I don't.  Our school eliminated the home ec program the year I was in 6th grade.  (For those of you keeping score, that was in 1989.)  Our interest and skills in the culinary arts decreased dramatically when we lost our home economics programs.  Students no longer receive basic instruction in food preparation and therefore have no knowledge of food beyond what appears on their plate.  If students had even just the basic knowledge of food preparation, they can use that knowledge to discern the health benefits (or lack thereof) of the food they eat.  And guess what?  If a child knows how to cook something, they will go home and show it off to their family members...maybe teaching mom or dad how to cook!

4.  Expand agriculture education programs.
It's no big secret that one of my favorite classes each year was my AgEd class.  So I may be a bit biased when I say that every student should take AgEd.  Why?  Because we all need to know where our food comes from.  We all need to realize that plants grow in the dirt, animals eat plants and eggs come from a chickens hind end.  When we were doing our CSA, I posted a picture of our potato plants and one of my customers told me, "I didn't realize potatoes had a plant part!"  And don't just educate them, have them be a participant!  Use those large lawn areas that are just mowed by the custodian and grow a class or school garden and prepare and eat the produce.  Have a hoophouse behind the school with laying hens to recycle the kitchen scraps and provide eggs for the kitchen.  Have some sheep grazing the football field.  The possibilities are endless...

What other non-school lunch alternatives can we think of?


  1. Yes! Our elementary kids only have gym two days a week, but they have lots of recess, a great gym teacher who volunteers after school for intramurals, and the kids play before and after school out on the playground. You would be hard pressed to find one obese kid out of the 150 or so students!

  2. Annie, you are full of fresh ideas with great wisdom behind them. I can't fully express how much I LOVE and appreciate these ideas that seem like real world common sense solutions to me. I know that core curriculum standards, time and testing all impact teachers today differently than the days of "old" but maybe we need to return to some days of old! Keep sharing Annie. You are making a difference in this conversation and debate.

  3. Wonderful ideas. Tonight before bed my kids asked what we are having for breakfast. They requested Fruit smoothies, eggs, and toast. They told me lunch has changed a lot this year and they're not getting enough to fill them up. They wanted to make sure they eat en
    ough for breakfast so theyre not hungry all day.

  4. These thoughts are great! And even challenging me to think about what I am feeding my little ones at home for breakfast, etc. I'm enjoying the school lunch soapbox.

  5. Very well said - I was just writing on some of these issues and will be linking to your blog - thanks!


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