What do you remember about school lunches from when you were a kid? When I was a kid in public grade school, I remember this: we had cheese and sausage pizza every Friday. We loved it. Mmm. Those rectangular slices of cheesy doughy goodness. And I distinctly remember my first week in the 7th grade lunch line. Now that we were in junior high, we could choose what we wanted to eat, as opposed to everyone just getting the same tray of food. That first week, they ran out of whatever they were serving, and we had to wait for more to come out of the oven. While we were waiting, the lunch lady walked down the line to let everyone know that they did still have fries. So if anyone was just ordering fries, they could go to the front of the line and get them without waiting. I asked a second lunch lady, "Who would get only fries for lunch?" She responded, "Well, some of the girls only get fries if they're on a diet." My 7th grade reaction: "What? They're on a diet and they're eating french fries?" But yes, they were. And I'm afraid to report that 7th grade me was apparently wiser than some of the folks wandering around our nation's capital these days.
You see, the US Department of Agriculture just released their new guidelines for school nutrition standards. They're not official yet, they've just released them for public comment. And let me tell you, there are some CRAZY things in there. Crazy. But not to worry, there are some fine, fine lobbyists that are attempting to set things straight.
Crazy Example #1: The new guidelines limit starchy vegetables (corn, peas, lima beans, and *drum roll please* pototoes) to two servings a week. That's right. The government is suggesting that it's maybe not such a hot idea to feed kids french fries five days a week. CRAZY I told you. But John Keeling of the National Potato Council is here to defend the noble potato. For one thing, he tells NPR, "The products that are in schools today basically are not your daddy's french fries." Really, John? They're still made out of potatoes, right? So even before you fry them, a potato has about 200 calories. And I don't know if you know this, John, but schools have been cutting recess, so when are the kids supposed to burn off all of those carbohydrates? But that's not all. John also tells NPR, "You won't solve obesity on the backs of a single vegetable." Really, John? Thanks for that tidbit. So if all we do is eliminate french fries, we won't cure childhood obesity? Well then, I guess we're just screwed, aren't we, John. Chocolate cake for everyone!!!
Crazy Example #2: Senator Susan Collins from Maine (they grow a lot of potatoes in Maine) apparently brought a potato and a head of lettuce to the senate and held one in each hand as she shared this bit of useful information: "One medium white potato has nearly twice as much vitamin C as this entire head of iceberg lettuce." Really, Susan? No, I mean, really? You forgot to mention that a potato also has more vitamin C than a ream of paper. You see, lettuce contains very little vitamin C. Orange rinds contain more vitamin C than lettuce, too. Should we all start eating orange rinds? No? Could this be because there are more palatable foods that also have more vitamin C than lettuce? Hmm, I wonder. So your medium potato has 28% of our daily vitamin C, but it comes with 161 calories. But look at this handy little chart I made with the help of World's Healthiest Foods:
Look at that! Not only does potato not make the top ten, but look what does.... strawberries. God, do you think we'll be able to find a way to get our kids to eat strawberries? That seems like quite a tough job. We'd probably have to cut them into strips and deep fry them. No wait... that's potatoes.
Crazy Example #3: Under the current guidelines, the tomato sauce on frozen school pizza counts as a full serving of vegetables. Yes, that's right. Do we need to give the kids another vegetable? Give them a slice a of pizza! But according to Corey Henry of the American Frozen Food Institute, if we eliminate this guideline "You would likely see a dramatic reduction in the amount of frozen pizza, or pizza in general, that you're able to serve in school cafeterias." You know what, Corey? I'm gonna' go with that being a good thing. I do not consider frozen pizza to be at the top of the list of foods I'm super thrilled with my kid eating on a regular basis. Sure, my kid eats pizza, but it's not on my list of foods my kid needs to consume every week. Newsflash, Corey: frozen pizza is not a health food.
Now I know that we parents don't always feed our kids the best possible foods for every meal. There are plenty of frozen chicken nuggets being served up to our little darlings. But the fact that food producers are trying to convince our legislators to sacrifice the health of our children for their bottom lines is about all I can stand. And I know that there are people who believe that the government should not be dictating what kinds of foods Americans eat, so I want to remind you that this is not what we're talking about. You can eat whatever you want. You can give your kids whatever food you want. What these guidelines do is tell the schools what kinds of foods they can serve to America's children. There are already guidelines in place that are supposedly aimed at providing healthy meals in our schools. These guidelines state that children must be served a certain number of vegetables, for example. But these guidelines then state that pizza counts as a vegetable! Forgive me, but it does not take a certified nutritionist to tell you that frozen pizza and french fries are not the components of a healthy diet and are not what you think of when you tell kids to "eat their veggies."
So kids... email your senators and congressmen. Tell them that you know what every American already knows. Pizza and french fries are not health foods and should not form the cornerstone of our school menus.
This post was inspired by a story I heard on NPR today: Lobbyists Want Fries And Pizza To Stay In School. Thank's NPR. You're always an inspiration.