Wednesday, February 16, 2011

On the Counting of Vegetables

In a recent article on education Congressman Mike Fitzpatrick ("Fitzpatrick: No progress in school oversight," by James McGinnis, Phillyburbs) made a comment about school lunch:

“I have greater faith in a locally elected board of school board directors then I do in some nameless, faceless bureaucrat in Washington who decides how many vegetables my kid should eat for lunch,” the congressman continued. “My wife and I can figure that out on our own. We don’t need to pay someone in Washington to do that for us.”

I've seen this comment on school lunches other places, too. And, you know, he's right; parents should have a say in what their kids eat. But the easiest way to count your own veg is to pack your own lunch. If you want to have the final say in what your kids eat then send them in with a brown bag or lunch box. A few grades ago one of my kids went through a chicken and vegetables phase. Every weekend I'd roast a chicken and microwave a big bag of mixed vegetables, and then bake some cookies. Every morning Mr. J would heat up some meat and some vegetables, put them in a food thermos, two cookies in a ziploc bag, a water bottle or a juice box and there's lunch. We knew exactly what the kid was eating. These days a lot of schools have online lunch payment that lets parents transfer money from their bank account to a lunch account. The kid swipes their id or types in a code in the lunch line and the money is subtracted. You can make a note about allergies and the system won't allow the purchase of foods containing those ingredients. Parents can say no desserts or chips. You can specify exactly what your child can and cannot buy, and then review what they did buy. That is really putting power in the hands of the parents.

But I've sat through enough pta meetings to know that trying to make those decisions on a school level is next to impossible. Some parents don't want any snack foods in the cafeteria. Some want only organic foods. Some don't want any peanut items at all. Some think this is all hooey and kids should eat what they want. Some would be horrified at the thought of the hormones in chicken and the possibility of pesticides in frozen vegetables. It's almost as bad as the discussions over whether or not to allow dodgeball. How do you decide and who decides? Is it majority vote? Is it a fiat from the school board? Is it consensus? How?

I do get concerned about the quality of food prepared and available in school cafeterias. It should be safe and reasonably nutritious, and I would rather the overall policies be made at a higher level, by nutritionists. Once the structure is in place parents can make individual decisions based on the menus provided (and they are usually provided on a monthly basis), and talk to their kids about food choices, or just block what they don't want from the online system.

Or pack a lunch.

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