Don’t blame the lunch box!

Warning – I may actually get controversial…lol!  I apologize now if I step on any toes.  Feel free to take my opinions, roll them into a ball, and chuck them out…

I read an article this morning about a Chicago school that banned homemade lunches.  The student’s choice is to eat the school provided lunch or go hungry.  The parents get to pay $2.25 for this privilege of their children eating what the school deems is a healthy lunch.

Ironically, the photo shown with the article is of a lunch consisting of a hot dog, strawberry milk, American cheese, tater tots…oh, and a couple carrots and apple-ish looking fruit.  Now, this may not be what the school is serving for lunch, but it also isn’t what most people would deem a healthy lunch.

This is just another step in the whole “Let’s fight childhood obesity!” campaign that’s been happening in the U.S.  Yes, children are chubbier today than when I was a kid according to statistics.  The solution seems to be to attack the lunch box or school cafeteria.

But is it really about lunches?

As I read the article, I thought to myself that the problem is not school lunches – whether brought or bought.  The problem goes deeper than that.  It’s more about how we eat, how we teach our kids to eat.  It’s about manufacturers who care more about profit than health.  It’s about money.

Have you ever shopped at Whole Foods?  It’s expensive.  You can go over to Sam’s Club and buy a case of mac and cheese for the price of a pound of organic oranges.  Grass fed beef?  Costly.  Organic milk?  Expensive.  You can buy hormone-laden, genetically modified stuff on sale, two for one at the local discount grocery store.  Chips are cheaper than berries.  Cookies are cheaper than fresh spinach.

Today’s food is about how convenient it is, how quickly we can get it out of the package, onto our plates and into our mouth.  We’ve forgotten how to cook.  And because of that, we’ve forgotten how to eat.

There’s also this new trend of serving food in disguise.*   “My two year old won’t eat broccoli, so I blended it up into pizza sauce!”  Honestly, I have never understood this.  We want our kids to eat healthy, but we hide the fact that they are from them?  All this will do – in my mind – is teach them not to eat vegetables.  It is deception, one I see backfiring as the child gets older. What can you say to them when they’re 10 and staring at cauliflower –  “But you liked it when I blended it into pasta sauce.”  I know this is a touchy subject, I know people who do hide healthy stuff in foods.  It’s a solution to a problem that many people have, but really, it’s a temporary solution.  It doesn’t solve that problem in the long run.

I’ve never hidden stuff in my kids meals – frankly, I was just too lazy to do that.  My kids manage to eat all sorts of vegetables.  I don’t expect them to like every one, but I do expect them to try them.  Advice that sounded good to me was to leave a selection of three or four veggies  and ask your child to pick just  two to put on their plate.  They feel like they’re in control, you’re still getting healthy stuff into them.  What I like to do is just try a new recipe – as they eat it, they’ll ask “What’s this green stuff in the stir fry?”  Bok choy.  “Oh, it’s good.”  Yep.

And I’m no saint.  I bought Oreos the other day (though here in Ireland, they sell them in half the quantity as in the States.)  I like my Coca-cola products.  I’m significantly chubby.  But I also can cook quick healthy meals, even if it’s something simple like tacos.  Think about it – tacos – protein, dairy, vegetables?  What’s not to love?  I also have kids who’ll happily eat all my strawberries, nibble on carrots, eat things like broccoli with out the cheese smothering , and are dying to try the sushi place at the mall (though that last one is more because everything is placed into bowls and onto conveyor belts – how fun is that?)

What I discovered as an adult is that the lessons we learned as a child stick, even those surrounding food.  I never ate breakfast as a child.  I barely ate lunch.  I kept those traditions for a long time.  Imagine not eating until 10 am every day? Not the healthiest lifestyle. I’d feed my kids breakfast but not eat anything.  Eventually, I learned about eating breakfast and the good in that.  As an adult, I found myself reading labels, making small changes that lead to overall big changes.  Hopefully my kids are paying attention and will keep these good eating habits into adulthood.

The point is, I do work hard to make sure my kids eat pretty healthy. And I’m certain most of my kids lunches are healthier than what most schools will serve.  Even our school in Michigan, which did offer healthy choices daily like a chef’s salad, also served things like French toast sticks for lunch.

Also, just because you force a child to buy a hot lunch doesn’t mean they’ll eat it.  I know – I was the kid who had to buy hot lunch daily.  That was the option I was given.  I rarely ate lunch because of it.  I hated milk, which was the only drink option, so I’d give it away.  The vegetables were always odd looking, especially in the beginning of the school year when the corn was always brown (my theory is it was freezer burn because it was bought in the spring and kept in the deep freeze all summer.)  I loathed hot dogs – especially because there was one boy in my class who’d eat the hot dog every Tuesday, then go and throw it up about ten minutes later.  Every. Single. Week. Ironically, because I was so small for my age, the lunch ladies would give me extra helpings sometimes.  Of food I wouldn’t eat.

No, forcing a child to buy a school lunch doesn’t actually solve the problem.  It just sets that child up for even more food issues than before.

The reality is, we have to, as a culture, review how we eat.  Refuse to buy a cabinet full of chips and cookies.  Keep fresh fruit and yogurt and other such things handy for kids to snack on.  And by yogurt, I mean good yogurt. Not yogurt that comes in shades of blue and neon green.  We have to stop letting our two year olds win food battles.  If all they want to eat are Goldfish crackers, then stop buying Goldfish crackers.  It’s that simple.  If it’s not in the house, they can’t eat it.

Stores listen to their consumers.  If we stop buying crap, they’ll stop stocking it as much.  Demand lower prices for healthier items.  If the government wants to help fight childhood obesity, then they need to bring fresh produce to families in the inner city, where it’s not always readily available.  Imagine if all those empty lots in Detroit were planted with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers?  Or planted with fruit trees and bushes?  Now there’s a federally funded project I could get behind.

Really, at the end of the day, the problem is much more than what’s in a child’s lunch.  It’s what’s in their parents heads and their wallets.  Forcing people to buy lunches doesn’t solve the problem of childhood obesity.  It’s just a band aid solution.

*Please note – when I talk about kids and eating habits, I am talking about your average normal kiddo.  I am highly aware that there are kids with sensory issues or special needs who will actually literally starve themselves before eating a food they are not comfortable with.  For these families, do what you need to do – hide that healthy stuff in sauces, pizzas or muffins.  I completely understand and will back you up on that!