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Editor's blog: School lunch

Even when the food is good, some kids won’t eat it

You couldn’t live in a better place than Boulder to eat hot lunch at school. Ann Cooper, head of the district’s nutrition services and an EdNews Parent expert, has transformed the menu so that every day there are healthy choices for kids.

Today’s meal, for instance, is traditional cheese or meat pizza, salad bar, fresh fruit and skim or 1 percent white milk. (Check out this month’s meals in Boulder Valley).

I think it’s all great – except that my third-grader refuses to eat any food served or prepared in a school kitchen. Not even a free coupon could entice her. I thought maybe I could meet her at school and eat the school lunch with her. Forget it. Apparently the only thing worse than eating hot lunch is having your mother show up to eat it with you.

I think it has to do with the cultural stigma around school lunch that persists even when the food is pretty good. Pick up just about any popular children’s book and there is bound to be a scene about gross school food. And the Internet is filled with images of grayish meat, canned green beans and other school lunch atrocities.

(The food was so bad when I was a kid that my mom wouldn’t let me eat hot lunch. She packed my sack lunch full of healthy items, such as peanut butter and banana sandwiches on wheat bread or cheese sandwiches with alfalfa sprouts. I was always trying to trade my lunches for some junk food. Turns out my mom was way ahead of her time).

Kids still find reasons to ridicule school food

My daughter’s primary objection for not eating at school – or so she says – is the food itself. There is a smart girl in her class who conducts experiments on her food every day. One experiment involves exploring all the veins found in a piece of chicken. This would gross anyone out. So, I ask my daughter, “Why not eat at school when they’re serving something you like, like pizza?” To this, I hear about the pizza experiment, which involves placing a napkin or paper towel atop the pizza slice, laying your hand on it, and lifting up a perfectly formed grease handprint for all to see.

In our case, I don’t think it’s just the food, however. I think my daughter is afraid of the process. She’s afraid of going through the line. She’s never done it before. She’s a worrier, and she’s also concerned that she won’t have enough time to eat. Recess comes after lunch. And, if you’re in third grade, there is nothing more important than getting outside to play as quickly as you can. Don’t you know the world will end if you stay inside to adequately chew food from every food group while your buddies hit the monkey bars? Turns out this actually is a valid worry. Children today rarely have enough time to eat lunch. (Cooper addressed this very issue in this EdNews Parent post in response to another parent question. EdNews Parent expert Julie Hammerstein also provided some good tips to parents whose kids come home from school having hardly eaten any lunch).

I am hoping the day comes when my daughter will give the food at school a try, or at least let me come in to give it a try. (Here’s Ann Cooper’s response to a question I posed a while back about my daughter’s reluctance to eat school lunch). It’s a major undertaking to transform the quality and nutritional value of food served on a mass scale at school kitchens across the country. And you need kids to eat it if it’s going to work. Bite by bite, I am sure it will happen – with or without my daughter.

Does your son or daughter eat food served at school? Take the poll, and I’ll publish the results in an upcoming newsletter.
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