Friday, April 12, 2013

Lunch and Learn

The boy with his new Minecraft sword. He sleeps with it.

Long ago I volunteered to read to Eion's class. As always, the commitment seemed far off and nebulous rather than what it felt today which was time sucking. The reading per se isn't so bad. It is that the reading is from 11:50am-12:12pm, right before lunch, leaving me with a little boy looking up at me asking, "You'll go to lunch with me won't you?" Crap.

I have a long standing no cafeteria rule. The growth and propagation of the idea that stay at home Moms, who spend each and every waking moment with their little darlings outside school, need to schedule in weekly lunches in the dank cafeteria baffles me. Not to be all judgey. Y'all can spend your days as you wish. Some of us just don't want our quality time shared with a couple hundred other kiddos. 

BUT sometimes, ever so rarely, I am a complete softy. In spite of my best efforts to beg off, I was lined up with all the 1st graders, ready to enjoy the luncheon delights. (Except the eating part. You couldn't pay me to eat that food.) 

Almost immediately upon arrival, I remembered why I avoid this place. The kids were all talking at conversational volume but the principal dropped in to turn off the lights and, ever so politely, tell them to shut the hell up. If they were screaming and running about there might be need for intervention but this was just the cumulative effect of 100 or so kids all talking at the same time. So after they are in a classroom all day, chained to their desks, expected to be quiet, they move to lunch, where they sit in assigned seats and have to be quiet. 

It dawned on me. I send my children to fucking* police states. But we'll talk about school choice and vouchers another day....

Back to lunch. All my kids, wisely, have the same disdain for mass produced fare that I do. The lot of them have never bought lunch. Consequently, I put very little thought into the menu. They send it home once a month, I think why do they waste paper sending this to me, recycle it, and move on. Perhaps more attention is needed, seeing as this was, sorry for the hyperbole, The Lunch Of Horrors.  

Let's start with waste. There is a sign in the line that cheerfully reminds all the kids "Take 4 Items!" So having been beat down by the police state, they dutifully do. Then they sit down, eat the chicken strips and throw all the rest of it out. Today the choices were:

Chicken strips
Fruit Cup (Not very aptly named, we'll circle back to that.)
Drink (Oh trust me, we're getting back to that too.)

Not eating myself and being able to fake interest in Minecraft conversation while multi-tasking, I surveyed all the kids I could see. Not one ate the broccoli. Not. One Bite. Carrots and applesauce were similarly ignored, though a wee bit may have been ingested. All those kids, throwing out so much food. 

Then we come to what counts as food. 

One of the little girls at my table had what I assumed to be a mandarin orange fruit cup. That is until she poured it out and it jiggled. [For the record, she didn't eat it.]

Me: Is that jello?
Little Girl: Yes.
Me: I thought it was fruit.
Little Girl: Jello is fruit.

[Aside: I am not going to get all political here, but I would like to note that the media and citizen voices who were so loud about ketchup being a veggie under previous administrations are painfully silent on the topic of jello as a fruit. Not that I find either categorization appropriate.]

Maybe they weren't hungry because today was ice cream Friday! For reasons not yet revealed to me, our school system has deemed Friday as The Day All Children Buy Ice Cream. Believe me, they all do and it is the first thing they eat. Why in these days of rampant childhood obesity, often referred to as an epidemic, do we need our schools pushing desserts? (Crappy ones at that.) Beats the hell out of me! I was just glad that the parents rolling in with three dozen cupcakes weren't headed to my kids' table. [Further commentary on this episode has been redacted.]

At long last, the nightmare was through. I told E goodbye and exited the cafeteria. On my way out, I was affronted by the dazzling array of sugary drinks that were options. In addition to the water (Which nary a child chose. Someone should check the dates on those things.) and milk, both of which seem like sensible offerings, there were juice boxes, capri suns, chocolate milk, strawberry milk and some non-soda canned beverage with which I was not familiar. 

I just fled.

There is much personal and political hand wringing about all the fat kids out there. Based on what I saw today, I don't think most of these people really want to solve the problem because if they did, it would be easy, at least the part school administrators and politicians could control. Get rid of: rice krispie treats, chips (even the baked ones,) ice cream, and any drink with sugar. All of which, are served daily at my son's school. For the main course, only serve food of the real and un processed variety. This does mean pizza and chicken nuggets, both of which we occasionally enjoy around here, are out. How about some grilled chicken? 

Yes, the children might grumble and eat less but aren't we told they are fat? And if they are not fat THEY WILL EAT WHEN THEY ARE HUNGRY. If we are concerned that they are not eating healthy food, we should cease to offer anything but.

At the end of the day, I was just happy that my children are opting out of the whole system, other than the ice cream that is.

*Sorry about all the swearing these days. Just in that kind of mood.


  1. Welcome to the world or free or reduced lunches, for children who don't have a lot of options for healthy, home-packed lunches of orgnic fruits and vegetables and rides to organized sports practices or private lessons. Obesity is linked to socioeconomic status. Sadly, that is not something schools are solely prepared to solve, though I don't disagree they serve a lot of crap, and I must say my children have rarely purchased school lunches. Jack would rather starve. I hate seeing obese children too, but I don't think serving jello at school is the problem.

    1. But teaching kids that jello is a fruit is a problem. Perhaps my wordiness buried my point - I don't think the schools alone can fix children's obesity. The one area they control, however, is lunch and the schools choose to fill it up with non-food.

  2. Jello is not a fruit, agreed. Plus it is nasty. I wouldn't wish it on a hospital patient, not to mention a student in a cafeteria.