School Lunch Changes a Long Time Coming

The more I read about First Lady Michelle Obama’s efforts to curb childhood obesity, the more I’m horrified by what passed for school lunch when I was kid.

A couple years ago, I heard about a new school board superintendent in my hometown who was demanding soda vending machines be taken out of schools. I thought that idea was a travesty and almost insulting. Diet Mountain Dew had, after all, kept me awake for most of my high school years. I couldn’t accept anything was wrong with school dining options and it felt, if anything, like an attack on students.

Now, I’m looking back on the way I ate during my thirteen-year run in the public schools, and it’s no wonder I’m carrying a little extra poundage these days.

I vividly remember lunch at my elementary school, with its massive slices of pizza and footlong hot dogs. We were served rice with cinnamon on top, a side dish of strawberries and bananas floating in a sugary, syrupy goo. We had chicken nuggets, corn dogs, spaghetti with a slice of garlic bread the size of a fedora. Sometimes, we had waffles or pancakes flooded in maple syrup. Tater tots and french fries were mainstays. On some days, lunch was followed by fruit-flavored ice treats.

Strangely, I can’t recall a single meal during middle school. I was too consumed by puberty, salacious rumors about who’d gotten to second base and quoting lines from Happy Gilmore and Billy Madison.

If I ate a thousand meals in high school, 989 of them had to consist of nachos and nothing else. (By nachos, I mean heavily salted tortilla chips dipped in nacho cheese.) Vegetables and fruits were but a rumor. At this time, we were on a credit system. My mom would write me a $30 check once every few weeks. Two dollars would’ve been enough to cover what then passed for well-balanced lunch, but I would use my school lunch credit to buy nachos, cookies and soda.

I would love to go back and compare my high school grades in classes immediately following lunch compared to the rest. There’s no way I didn’t bonk by fifth or sixth period. It’s a wonder how I made it to football practice on a gut full of salt and cheese. Maybe things would’ve been different had my school only offered healthy options. Maybe I would’ve pulled better grades and gotten into my school of choice. Maybe I could’ve been a fit tight end instead of an undersized left tackle. Maybe, at age 25, I wouldn’t be at the gym every day trying to make up for years of bad eating habits.

Maybe not. But still.

I’m 100 percent behind efforts to improve school lunch options. The fact is healthy food is expensive, and for too many underprivileged kids, school lunch is the only opportunity they have to eat a balanced meal. A sound body does create the foundation for a sound mind. I can’t imagine one disadvantage or drawback to eliminating, say, nachos and cookies from school lunch.

What are your thoughts? What do you recall eating as a kid in school? What changes do you think should be made?

10 thoughts on “School Lunch Changes a Long Time Coming

  1. We had the normal lunch line, then for the extra $2 we could upgrade to the “Arrow Line” which meant a chocolate or vanilla shake and fries substituting for whatever veggies or fruit the main line offered… I spent many lunches dipping my fries in the shake.
    Good thing I skipped all of my Junior year to eat at Taco Johns or Burger King.

  2. Man, do I miss the days of school lunch.
    But in all honesty, even if schools upgraded to more nutritious meals, kids will be kids and choose junk food over the more healthy choice.
    It’s up to the individual to choose to eat healthy and that comes from education, not the limiting of options in the lunch line.

    P.s. Beth, I really miss those shakes.

    • But if you’re limiting the unhealthy options, aren’t you making a difference automatically? I get your point – freedom of choice and all that. But kids don’t know what’s best for them.

      • Stick to strictly healthy food at the elementary age, and then add other options at the higher level. Best method.

  3. Well Miller,
    when you were younger you should have been forced into taking at least a milk, and 2 other choices that were either fruits or vegetables, (now what they let pass for fruits and vegetables could use some work) but there are federal standards that schools follow about what each child who is getting a reimbursable lunch(any lunch from the main line even the full price ones). And obviously I am all for reforming school lunches, and limiting vending choices in schools and I love Mrs. O for getting the word out about childhood obesity but schools, parents and dietitians have been trying to work on these changes for years now, part of it is getting the federal goverment to change the requirments for school lunches, they are outdated, and require schools to provide breakfasts that are 1/4 of the calories needs for kids for a day and lunch that is 1/3,and kids don’t need that many calories from school meals any more, they eat WAY to many snacks and so don’t need to be getting such high calorie meals anymore. And i agree with the previous poster about it being kids choices but it is also us to teach them about making good choices and giving them the oppurtunity to do so!

  4. Now that I maintain a fairly healthy diet, I often wonder how many days, months, or years I may have knocked off my life in my 22 years of eating cookies, chips, and pizza almost exclusively (still ok in moderation). My luck I’ll get hit by a bus in my late 30’s anyhow. But kids do need healthier choices, and they also need someone to help them make informed decisions of what they eat. This means not only educating the students but the parents. Anyone else go home to visit mom or dad for the weekend and come back with five pounds of extra weight and a tummy ache? Overall however, its not just schools or parents, but society as a whole that needs a general attitude adjustment when it comes to what constitutes a healthy diet and lifestyle. Until this happens, Americans are going to continue to take home the gold medal for the world’s fattest children.

  5. Dude Miller, speaking of lunches. The other night at like 1 am…Koke, ADD and I saw Robbie, remember him from Sophmore lunch we just tormented the kid, working at Taco Johns across the street from RHS in the Get N Go. Anyways yea he hasn’t changed at all and I made him go to tell someone in the Get N Go to go fuck themselves then I made him eat some disgusting shit for 65 cents. For him it was nostalgia he loved it!

  6. In my opinion, being obese doesnt start in the school districts nor are they the main contributing factor. I’m sick of parents making excuses as to why their kids are obese. No time to make healthy meals at home, too expensive to purchase fruits & veggies, easier to give kids the snack they want than to listen or deal with them throwing a tantrum. Really? The way I look at it is you either spend your money on healthy foods or you spend your money at the dr’s office. Schools I get are on a budget…they buy fries in bulk because its cheap and easy. I agree with Em when she said its all about education. I feel a lot of time parents are lazy when it comes to educating their kids about nutrition. They dont think a twinkie here and there could possibly have an impact in their kids future. Wrong-o mom of the year…facts are facts and they need to be taught. Just like sex, kids (at the appropriate age of understanding) need to educated on right choices that will affect their bodies in the future. Working in a school, I work with kids everyday who are overweight and cant do a jumping jack or a sit up. Its sad and unecessary.

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