Wednesday, February 23, 2005

School Lunches

school lunch
Originally uploaded by foodchronicles.
There has been an amazing amount of press lately about what children seem to be consuming at school.

We have the proponents at the USDA doing all they can to support school lunch programs while also supporting farmers who produce the items they want children to eat. We have the "America is obese" crowd running about banning vending machines in schools. Then there are the quasi nutrionally minded trying to get in on the action of helping children make better choices with their lunch and snack dollars.

Recently an article mentioned the inability of schools to spend all their allocated monies on fresh fruit and vegetables. Money is there, it just isn't being spent. Another article mentions the introduction of fruit smoothies by nationally recognized smoothie companies. While I do like a smoothie occasionally - this is where the quasi nutrionist comes in - smoothies, while being made of fruit, are REALLY carb heavy. It would seem that the sugar build up in a childs system from a smoothie would be as difficult to deal with as, say, a twinkie.

The Philadelphia school system seems to be making inroads to this sensitive issue in positive ways. Without all the brewhaha, or media fanfare, the district has quietly begun to evaluate meals and standards for school lunches.

They have axed hundreds of snack foods: those heavy in sugar, salt or trans fats. The snacks that have stayed have been re-worked. A chocolate chip cookie is still available. It is, however, been put on a reduction program itself - the recipe re-worked has it at a svelt 164 calories instead of the 492 it used to have. Size has been taken into consideration and portions have been tightened up. They are offering baked chips instead of fried. All drinks with added sugar have been eliminated. Kids are being offered whole fruits instead of sticky sweet candies. Gone are the days of the hotdog on a stick with ketchup and fries. The district is adding back those thing that have been missing for so long - vegetables, fruit, and whole grains.

The good news is - the kids like what is being offered! And it was all done without anyone taking note. They didn't have to have a city wide ban on soft drinks, or vending machines. Children are still allowed to make lunch and snack choices, however they're better choices.

I think the rest of the nation should give the Philadelphia school district a call. I think though, the answer they'll hear is that they put the kids first, and everything else fell into place.