School lunch: Pizza is a vegetable

Pizza (with tomato sauce) will be a vegetable in school lunches under legislation proposed by Congress, reports Nirvi Shah in Ed Week. Remember the ketchup-as-a-vegetable flap in the Reagan era?

“It is not that a whole-grain, moderate-in-fat-and-sodium pizza can’t be a healthy food. It just isn’t a vegetable,” said Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest.

Legislators also ditched limits on starchy vegetables, such as potatoes, peas and lima beans, under pressure from Big Tater. (Senators from potato-growing states took the lead.)

The bill also bans the Agriculture Department from spending money to reduce sodium in school lunches.

French fries are no good without salt.

The bagel dog barks

A year of eating school lunches — and blogging their awfulness — made “Mrs. Q” famous. Now unveiled as Sarah Wu, a speech pathologist for Chicago Public Schools, the blogger is the author of a book, Fed Up With Lunch.

It all started, reports Slate’s XX Factor, when Wu forgot her lunch and stopped by the cafeteria to buy what the kids were eating:  a bagel dog, a Jell-O cup, six tater tots, and chocolate milk. Later, she wrote:

The bagel dog (a hot dog encased in soggy dough) came in a plastic package with the words “Barkin’ Bagel” written across the front. Tough on the outside and mushy on the inside, it was like no bagel I had ever tasted. The hot dog was bland, not juicy. The wimpy tater tots (which counted as that day’s federally mandated vegetable) were pale and wilted in my mouth. Instead of a piece of fruit, like the crunchy apple I would have packed if I’d had time that day, I was given a few cubes of pear suspended in bright red jello.

More than 90 percent of students at the elementary school qualified for a free or reduced-price lunch.  Wu vowed to buy the school lunch every day, photograph it and blog about it.

XX Factor writes:

The book turns out to chronicle not just bad lunches, but attempts at better lunches, and where they succeed and fail. Because Wu is eating her lunch daily, in the school, she can see what the kids like about the food, and what they don’t, and it’s not always what you’d expect. Some kids will eat six cookies, but then, that means five kids were willing to give up the cookie (generally a heavily processed sugar cookie with glitter sprinkles). Much of the food got thrown away not because kids didn’t like it, but because they didn’t have time, in a 20-minute period that included waiting in line, to eat it all.

At the start of the second year, the school cafeteria added salad and fresh broccoli, perhaps in response to the publicity.

All Detroit students will get free meals

All Detroit students will get free breakfast, lunch and snacks as part of a federal pilot program.

“Some students would skip important meals to avoid being identified as low-income,” said DPS Chief Operating Officer Mark Schrupp.

Really? Aren’t low-income students the majority in Detroit’s public schools?

The Free Press photo of a school lunch shows something cheesy (deep-dish pizza?), cherry pie, chocolate milk and lettuce. If the program eliminates meal skipping, it will boost the demand for federal anti-obesity funding.


NJ auditor: Free-lunch errors skew aid

Students’ poverty rates are estimated by eligibility for a free or reduced-price lunch.  But many ineligible students are getting a lunch discount, concludes a report by New Jersey’s auditor. “School districts have little incentive to question applications because a higher participation rate also increases their state aid,” the report  charges.

“There is a significant error rate,” state auditor Stephen M. Eells said of the school lunch database. “It’s not accurate by a long shot, and I don’t think we should be using it to determine state aid.”

New Jersey gives schools an extra $4,700 to $5,700 per free or reduced-cost lunch recipient.

For 2011-12, the income limit for a family of four will be $29,055 for the free meal program and $41,348 for the reduced-cost meal.

A state audit in 2009-10 found at least 37 percent of lunch participants were ineligible or produced no supporting documentation. A random sampling in 10 districts found 23 percent were ineligible and another 24 percent could not be verified because they did not provide Social Security numbers. I’ll assume most of the 24 percent are here illegally; they probably do have low incomes.

Using lunch-program participation to generate poverty rates has many critics. For one thing, free lunch applications go way down in high school, apparently because even low-income students can’t stand the food. Using lunch data may overestimate poverty in elementary school and underestimate poverty in high school.


Chicago school bans bag lunches

At a heavily Hispanic Chicago school, students must eat the school lunch or go hungry. Home-made lunches are banned at Little Village Academy, reports the Chicago Tribune. The principal says the school lunch is healthier.

Fernando Dominguez cut the figure of a young revolutionary leader during a recent lunch period at his elementary school.

“Who thinks the lunch is not good enough?” the seventh-grader shouted to his lunch mates in Spanish and English.

Dozens of hands flew in the air and fellow students shouted along: “We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch! We should bring our own lunch!”

Fernando waved his hand over the crowd and asked a visiting reporter: “Do you see the situation?”

“Nutrition wise, it is better for the children to eat at the school,” Principal Elsa Carmona said. “It’s milk versus a Coke. But with allergies and any medical issue, of course, we would make an exception.” Carmona created the policy six years ago after watching students bring “bottles of soda and flaming hot chips” on field trips for their lunch.

“Dozens” of Little Village students threw most of the school lunch in the garbage uneaten during the Trib’s visit.

Though CPS has improved the nutritional quality of its meals this year, it also has seen a drop-off in meal participation among students, many of whom say the food tastes bad.

Little Village students usually qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch.  The full price is $2.25, which is more than most parents spend for a sandwich, carrot sticks and an apple. (I always put in a pickle. My daughter hated the school lunch.)

Update:  Should schools ban chocolate milk?  Seventy percent of milk consumed at school is flavored, reports the Washington Post.  Often children consume more sugar and calories than they’d get by drinking a Coke.  But milk consumption declines by 37 percent at schools that ban chocolate milk, says the National Dairy Council.

Nutritionists, meanwhile, have split between those who think chocoloate milk is worth the payoff in nutrients and those who don’t.

“Trying to get students to consume calcium by drinking chocolate milk is like getting them to eat apples by serving them apple pie,” said Ann Cooper, a leading advocate for healthy school lunches.

In my day, it was white milk or nothing.  Of course, we also got hideously sweet apple brown betty for dessert.

Nanny state says no to brownies, pizza

Uncle Sam could ban school bake sales and pizza days under a child nutrition bill on its way to President Barack Obama, reports AP.

The legislation, part of first lady Michelle Obama’s campaign to stem childhood obesity, provides more meals at school for needy kids, including dinner, and directs the Agriculture Department to write guidelines to make those meals healthier. The legislation would apply to all foods sold in schools during regular class hours, including in the cafeteria line, vending machines and at fundraisers.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack will have the power to decide when a food-based fundraiser is “infrequent” (OK) or “frequent” (not OK).

Margo Wootan of the Center for Science in the Public Interest says the bill is aimed at curbing daily or weekly bake sales or pizza fundraisers that become a regular part of kids’ lunchtime routines.

What so awful about a weekly slice of pizza? Obesity starts at home, not at school.

Do school lunches plump up poor kids?

Students who eat school lunches are more likely to be become obese, a new study shows. But students who eat school breakfasts are lighter. Eating both breakfast and lunch produces the slimmest children, reports Miller-McCune Online.

Low-income children, who qualify for free meals at school, are more prone to obesity. But the researchers think the lunches themselves are encouraging weight gain.

Daniel Millimet, an economist at SMU, theorizes that school breakfasts comply with federal nutrition guidelines, or come close. At lunch, students may buy extra items that aren’t subject to nutrition guidelines because kids are spending their own money.  Schools keep the profits from desserts or snacks students pay for themselves and can use the money as they see fit.

Nacho report

Alexander Russo’s new photo/ed blog, Hot For Education, features this School Lunch Update from the Chicago Tribune, which reports that nacho service in Chicago high schools will be cut from every day to once a week and in elementary schools to once a month.

School Lunch Update:  Once offered daily at Chicago schools, “nacho  service” will be reduced in high schools to once a week  and in elementary schools to once a month, according to this update from the Chicago Tribune (What’s happened since school lunch investigation?)

Saving money on school lunches

Cutting hot-meal options and cafeteria jobs could save New York City schools $23.7 million next year, reports the Wall Street Journal. Under Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, schools that offer three hot-meal choices would offer only two; schools that now offer two would go down to one. But some parents and “food activists” object.

Given New York’s budget problems, something has to give, writes Colin on the AAE blog. He’d rather get rid of the grilled cheese sandwich than make do with fewer books or teachers.

Elizabeth Puccini, founder of a group to promote more environmentally friendly schools, claims the lunch cuts will create “a real food-justice issue.” City Council member Gale Brewer bemoaned, “Cutting down on food choices is a tragedy and it’s outrageous.” Really? A tragedy?

. . . City Council member Gale Brewer noted, “Kids are picky and now they may not eat.” Perhaps those kids need to talk to their grandparents more, who had to walk uphill seven miles to and from school, in the snow, and were grateful to have day-old bread and a glass of tap water at lunch.

When I was in elementary school, we walked home for lunch — uphill through the snow. In middle school, we had one unappetizing lunch choice. I seem to remember beefaroni with a side of pallid carrots and peas.  We’d have been thrilled to get a grilled cheese sandwich. In high school, there were two choices, I think. The cafeteria was so awful — huge, noisy, dirty, smelly — that I avoided it after the first few weeks of ninth grade.

Fed Up with school lunch

Vowing to eat the school lunch her students get in 2010, Mrs. Q is lunch blogging as Fed Up. 

Today’s menu: Pepperoni pizza, milk, baby carrots, multi-grain apple mini-crisps, fruit cup.

Our first repeat meal! I strongly dislike the pizza so for me this one was a rough. I got excited by the “mini-crisps” because I thought they might be dehydrated apple slices, but unfortunately they were bland, rice cake-like disks.
I liked the baby carrots, but I asked one of my students if he ate them and he told me, “No.”
The fruit cup was partially frozen AGAIN. I did attempt to eat it, but I didn’t even eat half of it.

On the other hand, the Rib-a-cue tastes a lot better than it looks, she reports.

Via Core Knowledge Blog.

In elementary school, we walked home for lunch. I ate the school lunch in junior high school. It was just as bad. I wondered why they had to serve a hot lunch since I usually ate a sandwich for lunch at home. In high school, the cafeteria was so noisy, crowded and dirty that I brought a bag lunch and ate it in a student lounge or (secretly) in the social studies library.  When I was too lazy to make lunch, I ate two bags of M&M’s in the lounge, which inevitably led to a hunger headache. I’d make myself soup when I got home.

Update:  When recess comes before lunch, students eat more and return to class calmer, some schools say.