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Public School Lunches Suck

That’s a pretty bold thing to say, right? School lunches were never really on my radar before this summer. They were something I never had to worry about. Big Girl was in private school. A very nice private school without a cafeteria. We were instructed to send in whole, healthy fare — vegetarian if possible. If the kids forgot their snacks or got hungry there was a single snack machine filled with, and I quote:

“…natural granola bars, Lara bars (sweet and chewy with no sweeteners), Trio bars (3 seeds, 3 nuts, 3 fruits), organic whole-grain cereal bars, organic fruit strips, raisins, peanuts, almonds, pretzels, all-natural animal crackers, Smartfood popcorn, pretzels, dried organic apples, V-8 juice, 100% juice [offerings], spring water, organic chocolate milk, natural potato and corn chips.”

But that’s about to change because we’re about to make a huge change. A massive, scary change. My husband, who thinks that social success is just as important as academic success, is pushing for public school. Actually, his exact words were, “do what you want,” but he has made it clear that he thinks Big Girl’s old school, which only has ten kids — she would be number 11 — enrolled in second grade, isn’t the right choice for her. I am on the fence, but really do agree that she should be able to have playdates. And since the kids at the other school all live 20 to 30 minutes away — and the public school superintendent PROMISED us that Big Girl is going to get lots and lots of enrichment — I’m leaning toward giving public school a shot. This means her access to food is going to change, too. It’s going to be a difficult adjustment for her. I’ll explain…

Big Girl has been going to camp at our local elementary school this summer. Every day I packed a lunch. When she got home she often left her favorite organic bars, cookies, and raisins in the box. She ate her sandwich and that was it. Wasn’t she hungry, I asked. No, she told me, she just didn’t feel like eating it at camp. What did the other kids have, I wanted to know. “Well, Mommy, they eat stuff that I don’t really like,” she told me. “They like Fritos and corn chips and packaged foods.” (And I can’t help it. I laughed when she told me “packaged foods.”) And then she told me how nervous she was: “The other kids don’t eat the things that we eat. What if when I go to school in September I am the only one not eating junky foods? I don’t LIKE junky foods!” And then the tears came. Sigh.

I tried telling her that there must be other kids who eat healthier options. I also tried to tell her that no one was going to force her to eat something she didn’t like. There would be no one holding her down in the lunch room shoving Cheez Doodles down her throat. (“Mommy, all the kids eat those puffy cheese things, but I don’t care for them, either!”) But she’s still really, really nervous. And she obviously doesn’t want people seeing her eating what she likes.

And so here I am counting down the days until school starts. Am I making the right decision? Does it make sense to leave a child at a school that supports my ideology and morals — that also happens to be on the same page as I am with food — even if it means she’ll be missing out on playdates? Do I put her into the public school for a month or two to see how it goes? It’s going to be a long 18 days…

This post is how I am participating this week in Food Renegade’s Fight Back Friday — an awesome campaign to get people eating real food again.

9 Responses to “Public School Lunches Suck”

  1. Shari G says:

    My son goes to public school and I let him buy lunch on pizza day and when they have “brunch for lunch”. On those days he has to decide whether he wants a snack and what that snack should be. I encourage him to make good choices, sometimes he does, and sometimes he doesn’t. I am OK with it b/c the rest of the days he is eating what I pack for him- healthy options. I am also OK with it because this is giving him some experience in the real world where we have to chose from many options and hopefully make the right choices.

  2. Stephanie says:

    That’s awesome that your kid doesn’t like “junky” foods. And you’re right school lunches are rough. I teach in a public school. I would know. Did you ever watch the Jamie Oliver Food Revolution? I was all for that. Good luck with the transition and keep up the real food lunches!

  3. Bev says:

    I’m sorry. I’m not sure I understand why you are taking her out of the private school. Just for social enrichment? She could be in Girl Scouts or some other activity and have friends that way. There must be more to this.

  4. Brad says:

    I have a 4 year old who will be facing the same issues 2 Septembers from now and have thought of the same issues. The social aspect and peer pressure of the lunchroom is unbelievable, but everything I read above makes me believe you are giving you child the best chance to succeed in life, which is what parenting is all about. Don’t second guess yourself. Keep up the good fight and your child may even get a few converts in the cafeteria after a while!

  5. kb says:

    No, it’s really just for socialization. Big Girl is very, very shy and very insecure. Her social options are very limited at that school, including the fact that there is a very obnoxious little girl in her class who she loves. Meanwhile, this little girl got suspended last year for pushing Big Girl down. I think we’d rather have her in a class of 20 kids where she has lots of options than in a class of 11.

  6. Jackie Lee says:

    It is tough, and public school lunches do suck. My kiddo is in preschool and despite lengthy conversations with her teacher she was served poptarts for breakfast at school today. *really?* grrr. They serve breakfast and lunch at her preschool and it’s a nightmare. I don’t want to ostracize her by sending better foods with her, but the food choices she does have are horrible, processed crap. I don’t have an answer for you, but my thoughts are with you. I also understand the obnoxious little girl thing ~ mine had the same thing last year. Thankfully she’s moved up a grade and is no longer in the same class. Small favors. If you can send her lunch you might talk to her about it being a way she can connect with other kids. Share something new ~ mine is not shy and always willing to voice her opinion about everything lol so I’m not sure how that would work for your kiddo, but it might be something she could use to meet other kids.

  7. kb says:

    Yes, love Jamie Oliver. Blogged about the show a while back. (His use of plastic, I believe.) Thanks for the post!

  8. kb says:

    That’s what my friend told me — lots of kids look at the good food and covet it. We’ll see, I guess!

  9. Jackie Lee says:

    Well, I checked the menu before sending her to school today to see “cereal bars” and “corn dogs/fries/baked beans” on the menu. More than I was willing to let slide. I packed her up a lunch and talked to the teacher about it when I dropped her off. Apparently it wasn’t a problem ~ she ate her food.
    The teacher did mention while I was picking her up that I could keep her home and feed her breakfast and then bring her in after they are done eating.
    Well that kind of defeats the whole purpose of communal eating right? *sigh*

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