School lunches: nutritious and satisfying?

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I visited my son’s school a few months back during the lunch time session. The aim was to A) reward children who ate fruit and/or vegetables and B) to observe how lunches are conducted.

On the plus side, every single child (maybe 150 kids aged from five to seven) had a fruit or vegetable in their packed lunch. This is great, and it was also heartening to see that, despite it being Friday, which equals “pizza day,” many of those who have school lunches had another option — bagels and cheese and cucumber, or turkey sandwich.

The kids are also getting nutritional advice at school — they talk about foods that give them good energy and which ones are healthy and which ones are not. Good stuff if they’re getting this at home and at school.

Eating and Socializing

However, the one thing that really concerned me was the rush and emphasis on getting the kids to finish up quickly. I hear myself at home sometimes saying “Come on, eat up” and “Quickly now, finish up.” After spending time in the school cafeteria I’m not going to say those words anymore. Here’s why.

The school has lunchtime sessions for each grade and these last half an hour each. There are monitors in the room who go around helping the kids open stuff and clear up, but their job is also to tell the children to “chew, chew.” They say this a lot. Those kids get someone breathing down their necks from the minute they sit down and eat and it just seems to take the joy out of the social aspect of eating. I admire these folks whose job it is to do this because it’s hard enough with one, let alone 150 kids, but it felt as though the lunch time session was yet another tick in the box to get the kids in and out as quickly as possible.

Aren’t we taught to eat our food slowly, to enjoy meals, to find pleasure in eating and to socialize during mealtimes? Not at school, apparently. This is not how I remember it in the 1980’s. I don’t want my son to feel pressure to eat — I want him to want to eat and to enjoy it and associate it with a thing of pleasure, as well as necessity.

nutritionimageI’m not sure how the school will overcome this, even if they wanted to. But I know for one thing that I won’t be eyeballing my son’s every mouthful now, and mealtimes will be long and pleasureable.

The other thing that concerned me was that, when one child still had a whole orange they had not managed to eat at the end of the lunch time session, the monitor told them to “Just throw it away.” I was aghast. Throw it away? Why? Such waste! Keep it for your afternoon snack. Let’s not teach this throw-away generation to throw away anything else, please.

The Importance of Water

My final bug-bear was when I mentioned to my son that he needed to have water with his meal. “I can’t,” he replied. “There is only chocolate milk or strawberry milk for me to choose from.” Big sigh from me … 🙁

waterWater, water. The most important nutrient of all.

Water is your body’s most important nutrient, is involved in every bodily function, and makes up 70- 75 percent of your total body weight. Water helps you maintain body temperature, metabolize body fat, aids in digestion, lubricates and cushions organs, transports nutrients, and flushes toxins from your body.

Everyone should drink at least 64 ounces per day, and if you exercise or are overweight, even more. Your blood is approximately 90 perent water and is responsible for transporting nutrients and energy to muscles and for taking waste from tissues.

Get the water in the cafeteria! That’s what I say.

School lunches have come a long way in terms of what they offer, and it’s not going to be perfect, and neither is my cooking at home, but it certainly opened my eyes to how we can always look towards helping our kids with nutrition and eating at all levels.

I’m off for a glass of water 😉