The #Brownbagginit Trend – My Thoughts
If you live in the Pittsburgh area, you have no doubt seen and heard some of the news stories surrounding the Plum High School Student protest over school lunches. The borough, like many across the nation have started following the new federal guidelines in an effort to make student lunches healthier. Students started a trend on twitter #brownbagginit, and are determined to pack lunch from home to get their voices heard and fight back against the school.
The reason students are protesting is that they are getting less food for more money with the same old less than par quality. Instead of getting two hot dogs for lunch with vegetables and fruit optional, for example, students are now required to take vegetables and fruit and only get one hot dog. Since cheap protein is less expensive than vegetables, school lunch prices have gone up. Students, of course, see this as a portion decrease with a price hike. School officials state that they are working on a 650 calorie meal cap and mention that milk takes 140 calories and a fruit takes about 70, leaving less room for other items.
I applaud Plum students, my daughter included, for taking a stand against the school lunch program and frankly feel more comfortable with her packing food I choose for her anyway. Meantime, the schools are shrugging their shoulders, stating that the new federal guidelines are to blame. Here’s how I feel about the guidelines and how the schools handle them.
Let’s start with the fact that the school is working with a target of 650 calories for lunch. Does that seem a little high to you? The average amount of calories recommended for an adult is 2000 per day. If they were to follow the “eat six small meals a day” recommended by most dieticians, 650 is way too high, leaving just 270 calories for each of the other meals (including dinner!) Perhaps lowering the caloric intake for lunch and offering an opportunity for a healthy snack later in the day would eliminate the need to stuff them during this one meal.
Another problem I see with the new “healthier” lunch is that the unhealthiest items have remained on the menu. One menu item this week is a McRib Sandwich (really?), the protein of the meal. On average a McRib sandwich is 450 calories itself, leaving little room for anything else on the plate after milk is added. Chicken nuggets, another mystery meat, and Mexican pizza are also on the menu, both high calorie protein choices that lack the nutrients lean protein, like roasted chicken or fish would provide.
Let’s move on to the vegetables and fruit. Although the school does offer a minimal salad bar and some fresh fruit options, the selection that typically comes with the hot lunch offering are canned fruit and canned vegetables. The first, soaked in a sugary syrup and the latter packed in sodium laden water. These options are not very appealing to kids or anyone for that matter, so even though they are mandatory that they be placed on the tray, most of the time, they end up in the trash.
So, basically the kids are getting an unhealthy protein, in smaller portions, and unappetizing fruits and vegetables that they won’t eat. And paying more for it. I can see why they’re upset.
Again, shrug of the shoulders “but those are the guidelines”. Is there a way to make the lunches more appealing and still keep them healthier? Of course there is, but it would take way more effort and probably more money. How about slicing fresh fruit everyday as an option? Offering grapes (kids love grapes), kiwi, blueberries, pineapple or strawberries? Keep the cost down by serving only those in season at the time. As far as vegetables go, try steaming fresh vegetables instead of opening the can and serving something that looks like it sat in dirty water for months? even as a vegetable lover, I won’t eat that. And the protein?? Maybe serve some real meat and prepare them without tons of salt and sugar.
In my opinion, it’s not the federal guidelines that are lacking, but a poor effort on the part of the districts to make the lunches appealing to kids. If the schools hands are tied with the offerings, they need to communicate the issue and work to find a better solution. If money is an issue, personally, I’d rather spend $3.00 – $3.50 a day on some substantial, nutrient dense food than $2.50 on what’s being served. Wouldn’t you? I mean, some of us pay more than that for our gourmet coffee every morning!
I’m not sure how long the protest or the #brownbagginit trend will last, but I wouldn’t hold your breath waiting for the district to make the lunches more appealing. But, if it’s any consolation, at least ketchup isn’t considered a serving of vegetables this year. At least I don’t think so.