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?