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School Lunch Drama: Free the Pickles!

Changes in the National School Lunch Program mean certain foods aren't on the menu any more, but overall, it's probably a good thing for students.

Have you heard about what is happening in school cafeterias? It’s an outrage! No, kids aren’t using sporks to pierce each other’s eyebrows. It’s much worse … pickles have been eliminated from the lunch menu! 

Students made do without their tater tots, were patient when the fat was sucked out of their milk, but now pickles are outlawed? Well, that’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel and I, for one, …. well, don’t really care. But, the students at Hall High School in West Hartford care.

A student there was quoted in the West Hartford Press as saying, “The Student  Organization met with the head of Nutritional Services to discuss what, if anything, can be done to rectify this horrible situation.”

You go, girl! Free the pickles!

There is a healthy school lunch initiative sweeping the nation and I do care about that. The goal of the National School Lunch Program is to align school lunches with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which means adding more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low fat-milk. It also means reducing saturated and trans fats and sodium (hence, the pickle ban).

Obviously, this is an attempt to break the cycle of high calorie/low nutrition diets plaguing the youth of America. This is not some half-hearted marketing plan for schools to show they care about the well-being of the students. It is the result of an 81-page report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which lays out very specific plans to overhaul school breakfast and lunch programs. 

In Connecticut, school districts may apply annually for Healthy Food Certification, which addresses all foods sold to students during school hours, including school cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and fundraisers.

It does not include food given to students, so parents can still bring in cupcakes for the class for their kids’ birthday, something I banned from my classroom years ago. I guess that makes me a pioneer in the war against childhood obesity.

However, you know those parties where your kid contributes a few bucks and the teacher brings in pizza as a treat? Forget it. If it involves money, it must adhere to the nutritional guidelines. There is also a statement in there requiring that students have a fruit or vegetable with every meal bought. I have a vision of trash cans overflowing with Brussels sprouts and bananas.

Aside from the young lady with a passion for pickles, there has been very little backlash from students. None of my students has mentioned it at all, including my son. One thing I did notice though, when I was reading the report, was that there is very little said about limiting the amount of sugar.

I texted my son during his lunch period today to take a picture of his lunch for research purposes. I got back a picture of a bag of Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips and two M&M cookies, and a note saying he didn’t have time to eat a hot lunch because he had a meeting with his guidance counselor. He brought the empty bag from the chips home and the ingredients do look much healthier than regular potato chips. The jury is still out on the cookies.   

Tammy October 17, 2012 at 01:31 PM
I'll be honest, I'm not sure I love the idea of the mandates. I have two daughters still in school and they've both said the same thing. Hardly anyone eats the fruit or veggies they make them take, most kids just throw them away... which is a waste of money and a waste of resources. If they're going to charge us for food that our kids don't want or don't eat how is that good? It's my job as a parent to be sure my kids are eating balanced diets and I'm okay keeping that responsibility.
Crazy Lunch Lady October 17, 2012 at 02:35 PM
As a Food Service Director in a small rural school in Michigan I have very mixed feelings about the National School Lunch Over-haul that was forced in us this summer. In our school I see students who won't even come into my cafeteria line because I now have to make them take the fruit or veggie. Milk is a whole other ball game. Since when do students k-12 not like to drink milk or at least chocolate milk? I think that the over-haul needed to happen, but to the severity of what is going on now, I am not sure. This was too much at once. Just wait next year the sodium requirements, calorie maximums, and mandatory 100% whole grains take in effect. We'll just see what happens then. Right now we have a very happy local pig farmer who just loves the vegetable refuse we give him. I really don't want to be feeding the pigs, I would rather have the students learn to enjoy thing or at least let them tell me what they would like rather than whine and gripe about it. Most of them are in high school, they should have the verbal skills to let me know what and why this is not appealing to them. But like I have been telling them all school year- Write your Congressman. Then write the president, and tell them politely what is the problem and your suggestions to correct it.

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