Sunday, April 17, 2011

This Week in School Food News

By Ed Bruske
aka The Slow Cook

A story about a public school in Chicago that prohibits students from bringing lunch from home reverberated around the world this week. The principal of Little Village Academy explained that she implemented the policy six years ago because of the junk--including sodas and flaming corn chips--that kids brought from home.

"Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school," principal Elsa Carmona said. "It's about the nutrition and the excellent quality food that they are able to serve (in the lunchroom). It's milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception."

A spokeswoman for Chicago schools said it was unknown how many of the city's schools have similar policies because the decision is left up to individual principals. But shouldn't a policy this controversial be spelled out in the district's wellness policy?

It's a well known fact that the food at school, bad as it usually is, often bests the health-defying stuff parents pack for their kids. Case in point: check out the "lunch" one fourth-grader brought to my daughter's school cafeteria last year, consisting of a giant cupcake (the icing has already been licked off), a bag of Oreo cookies, a lollipop and a can of Sprite.

This was not at all unusual. This same girl almost always brought a soda for lunch, as did some of the other kids, most of whom qualified as "low income." My daughter has since transferred to a different school where the children are more affluent and come from many different countries. There, some of the kids routinely bring highly processed Oscar Meyer Lunchables, and last week I saw a girl chugging an Izze soda. Sure, it was made with fruit juices. But a bottle of the blueberry variety still contains 31 grams of sugar, or nearly eight teaspoons.

So where would you draw the line? Should parents be able to send their children to school with anything they want in their lunch box? Or should we exclude sodas. In D.C., sodas are banned from vending machines. So should kids be allowed to drink their own in the cafeteria? What about candy? Cupcakes? Lunchables?

In France, the kids eat the lunch that's served in school or they go home for lunch. But Americans don't seem to care about what other countries do--especially France. Some critics see the policy at Little Village Academy as the ultimate expression of the nanny state. But does cherished notion of freedom of choice mean freedom to feed your kid to death?


The debate over chocolate and other flavored milk in school cafeterias continues to rage. The dairy industry and many school food service directors argue that kids won't drink milk unless its sweetened and thus will be missing an important source of calcium and Vitamin D. Food activists like Ann Cooper counter that chocolate milk should be considered a "treat" and served only occasionally at home.

The dairy industry has been working on formulae that are less sweet and use cane sugar instead of high-fructose corn syrup. ABC News had a couple of kids test the new product. "It's too watery," said one. But she'd drink it if it were the only thing available.

Now comes Jamie Oliver with a national media campaign to remove flavored milk from schools. "When kids drink chocolate and strawberry milk every day at school, they're getting nearly two gallons of extra sugar each year. And that's really bad for their health," proclaims the new "Food Revolution" petition.

A fact sheet [PDF] quotes the Harvard University School of Public Health as citing sugary drinks as a risk factor for diabetes and heart disease.

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation "surveyed parents and found that the majority agree that their child’s school should limit access to unhealthy snacks and sugar sweetened beverages. Schools should include flavored milk in this category."

In the opening episode of Oliver's latest "Food Revolution" television series in Los Angeles, he had a crew fill a school bus with sugar (or sand) to illustrate the point. Does this make Oliver a school food hero, or nanny in chief?


One of the problems in the sugar conversation is knowing who to trust. For instance, the American Dietetic Association is supposed to be "your source for trustworthy, science-based food and nutrition information." But the ADA recently announced a new partnership with Coca-Cola. It now counts Coke and Pepsi as corporate sponsors.

In announcing the deal with Coke, the ADA says it will give the soda giant "prominent access to key influencers, thought leaders and decision makers in the food and nutrition marketplace." The nutrition group praises Coke as being as being committed to "product innovation and nutrition education, helping to meet changing consumer wellness needs through beverages and serving as a resource for health professionals and others interested in the science of beverages and their role in healthful living."

Nutrition activist Marion Nestle says on her blog this week that such blurring of the lines between corporate greed and non-profit groups is one of the reasons she now agrees that food stamp recipients should not be allowed to use their government stipends to buy sodas.

"Soft drink companies have gotten a free ride for years," Nestle writes. "They moved into schools and created an environment that makes it socially acceptable for children to drink sodas all day long. If sodas are now under scrutiny for their role in obesity, it is because soda companies are reaping what they have sown."


Would you believe that moms drink more sugary sodas than women without children?

That's according to a story from NPR, which says parents need to think more about eating better and exercising more.

An analysis of the eating and exercise habits of more than 1,500 young adults found moms and dads with kids 5 and younger exercised less than similar people without kids. Overall, the moms in the study consumed an average of 2,360 calories compared with 1,992 calories for the similar women without kids.

University of Minnesota researchers conclude that "parenthood may be contributing to poorer dietary intake and higher BMI" in young moms. Both moms and dads appear to exercise less, too. The results of the research were published online by the medical journal Pediatrics.


Here's one Florida family's prescription for giving up processed food:

- No refined grains such as white flour or white rice

- No refined sweeteners such as sugar, any form of corn syrup, cane juice or anything artificial like Splenda

- Nothing out of a box, can, bag, bottle or package with more than 5 ingredients

- No deep fried food

- No "fast food"

- Only locally raised meat

- Only water, milk, 100 percent fruit juices, naturally sweetened coffee and tea, and wine or beer - to help the adults keep their sanity!

"Some may be asking, wouldn't you starve if you didn't eat any of those things?" says blogging mom Lisa Leake. "Which is a true testament to how much our society has become dependent on highly processed foods when, in reality, nothing could be farther from the truth.

"For the next three or so months," Leake explains, "we would embrace whole grains, organic fruits and vegetables, meat from our local farmers' market, wild-caught seafood, nuts, dairy products and natural sweeteners - in moderation of course - such as honey and maple syrup. And to make this new diet work we would have to become very resourceful food shoppers, pack food in our suitcases on trips, try lots of new recipes and deal with a lot of dirty dishes."

You can read more at 100 Days of Real Food.


Finally, some lunch ladies will do almost anything to get their students to eat better.

For Michelle Seebode, the cafeteria manager at Bay View Elementary School in Hampton Roads, Va., that means often dressing up as food. One day, for instance, she might just show up for lunch dressed as a pea pod--all in the spirit of getting kids to try healthier foods.

During National School Breakfast Week in March, Seebode posed as characters such as the Incredible Edible Egg super hero, complete with an egg white, yellow yolk and a cape. The superhero told the students that eggs are packed with protein. Another day, Seebode was Shirley “To Be Fit” Holmes, the fictional cousin of detective Sherlock Holmes. Shirley’s job was to clue the students in on the importance of breakfast. And as Miss Cowcium, Seebode told students that from dairy products, “you can get calcium and protein to grow strong.”

Seebode donned the pea pod outfit on St. Patrick's Day and walked around during the lunch with a basket of stuffed vegetable toys – broccoli, green pepper and avocado.

“It’s nice to be able to get out of the kitchen sometimes and interact,” Seebode said. “Kids are starting to learn it and enjoy it.”

No comments:

Post a Comment