GOPer’s at it again, this time attacking what could be called the first lady’s pet project, apart from her let’s move campaign meant to make exercise a fun priority for kids, the Whitehouse vegetable garden she has been often filmed surrounded by kids while tending, her crusade to revamp school lunch programs across the country. No surprise there when last month they sought to roll back federal school lunch program rules aimed to enhance the nutritional value of what is given to our kids during the school day; after all they needed something to do to detract from getting real work done, pre Bowe Bergdahl, pre a reason to reopen the tired Benghazi discussion. As ABC news reported, said standards transforming the old school lunch of pizza and tatter tots to things like whole wheat spaghetti, green beans, broccoli, cauliflower and kiwi fruit. Republicans along with the processed food industry’s chief argument, healthy food is just too expensive; also schools cite rising plate waste as healthy options mostly line the trashcan’s not children’s bellies. Delving deeper into what the political right is actually proposing, it doesn’t seem to be anywhere near playing politics with our children’s health, an accusation leveled by the first lady in her press conference statement surrounding the issue, it’s less about putting vending machines back into schools where they were removed to recoup revenue and more about aiding schools operating at a loss because of the federally mandated lunch program guidelines. Republican legislation up for debate allowing schools to opt out for that very reason, to put forth their own plans in places where these just aren’t working. Neither is this the first time the first lady has been criticized for her anti-obesity campaigns targeted to make our nation’s children happy, healthier and ultimately more productive; putting aside her near obsession with the topic, her imposing reputation for taking credit for things it turns out she may have little to do with, i.e. the reported decline in obesity among toddlers, is that her efforts, federal standards have failed to address core problems undermining any success in overhauling the school lunch regime. Those having to do with how healthy food is served not just whether or not the food served qualifies as healthy.
Unfortunately for progressives and parents everywhere ecstatic schools have stopped serving the junk food combination of pizza and tatter tots, the political right is absolutely right about food standards, independent of motive for their thoughts, because it was never that pizza and tatter tots were the only items served; it was the abysmal quality of the fruits and vegetables presented as side dishes that had kids choosing tatter tots to go with their pizza over mixed vegetables, peas, corn, green beans, fresh fruits. I myself being someone who vividly remembers the school lunch horrors, it reached far beyond mystery meat, mystery green vegetable like paste and baked beans; what most imagine to be prison food, to Granny Smith apples that sounded like plastic or rubber when chewed, lacking the sweetness typically associated with the fruit, sometimes even lacking taste, oranges that were rarely sweet, many times having a patch of green at the top or bottom signifying it was picked too early, bananas either green or overripe. And that was the end of variety; other fruit offerings were canned peaches, pears, pineapple chunks mixed fruit, at minimum in light syrup. Again things that don’t go with pizza and aren’t that healthy in the first place. Vegetables were likewise always canned, always simply dumped from the can, warmed and placed in a serving dish sans seasoning, cooking, marinating in anything that would improve the taste, add flavor or blend well with the main course entrée available that day. Once more, for myself, I knew I could get frozen, and much better tasting, vegetables at home, so why would I eat canned peas, canned corn, canned green beans, particularly with pizza? Also a myth to be busted is pizza and tatter tots were a daily serving choice offered, wrong; breakfast for lunch, pasta with meat or cheese sauce, taco day, turkey, mashed potatoes and dinner role was popular around thanksgiving, barbequed pork and chicken sandwiches were routine staples though absent much vilified tatter tots. Baked potato bars and salad bars were always options as were salads and bottled water complete with whole wheat role by the time you entered middle/Jr. high. Likewise baked Lay’s potato chips and other less fattening chip options were offered once they came to market for alternatives such as sack lunch consisting of sandwich chips, fruit and milk; pretzels were given replacing tatter tots/French fries on a sandwich bar in my junior high. The overall problem with the former two comes back to quality, wilted watery items owing to them having been placed on ice through several lunch shifts; today nutrition zealots would sound off about the sour cream, shredded cheese, bacon bits and butter allowed on the potato bar and lunch ladies chiding students for taking too much based on they were almost out of ingredients, their daily allotment, not it being unhealthy to consume that mountain of sour cream, cheese, butter and the so called empty calories constituting bacon bits. Still we had a fraction of the obesity rates when morning kindergarten snack was milk and a cookie, interesting.
Further there seems to be a disconnect between potential meals that meet the guidelines and what schools are actually serving to kids; MSNBC’s guest chef example would have most kids jumping up and down. Whole wheat pizza, sweet potato fries, kiwi fruit, cherry tomatoes complemented by low fat ranch dressing and a glass of plain milk, most importantly done without any of the added sugar often found in low fat products currently on the market. Except, transcending fact, this isn’t a meal provided by any school nationwide operating under the new parameters; yes it reduces sodium, sugar, fat and overall calorie count. But, they have again sabotaged their success in getting kids to adopt the new format removing catsup, owing to it no longer being dubiously classified as a vegetable, touting tomatoes meant to replace it. Forget catsup goes with French fries like shoes goes with socks, peanut butter traditionally goes with jelly; whole milk may be too much for children possessing sensitive stomachs, odd food allergies, to say nothing of setting off uber healthy parents who prefer 2%, even skim. The reality you might as well let them consume chocolate milk if whole is the “alternative;” simultaneously, you can achieve nearly the same nutritional results regarding fries by baking them rather than using a deep fat fryer, substituting various grades of olive oil for standard hydrogenated vegetable oils, raw tomato and kiwi fruit, other vegetable choice providing added fiber housed in sweet potatoes. Can’t they keep the catsup considering what else is now on their plate? Instead raw vegetables of all types are presented without dipping sauce ranch dressing, low fat, natural peanut butter. Salad bars, salads are offered without dressing, or, their idea of dressings for salads don’t include popular ranch, French, even known blue cheese, but balsamic vinaigrette. An item you probably couldn’t get high school age kids to try never mind elementary school students; fruits are served whole never in fruit salad, never in build your own yogurt parfait, build your own healthy fruit shortcake so that it’s not always strawberry, allows younger kids a legitimate reason to play with their food, interaction increasing their desire to eat it while enhancing choice, variety. Sure you will no doubt see low fat parfaits, fruit smoothies cropping up on health generated menus doing little good if it always contains something students don’t like, someone is allergic to, they prefer the ones at McDonald’s, purchased by family at grocery store X, made at home by a relative. Of course schools are using no creativity, originality even knowledge of cooking and what tastes good in attempting to raise the nutrition bar in reference to their lunches, just knowing it has to be healthy, slapping it up there and whining when children throw it away. And no this isn’t like the comparison anti- chocolate milk fanatic calling it soda in drag made stating letting children consume the former was akin to saying a kid doesn’t like apples so give them apple pie; a different type of apple would suffice in her example. In addition to fruit salads, raw, natural honey can be used to sweeten fruits a bit, in healthy desert options; for vegetables try coleslaw. Why not do something reminiscent of Subway having students build their own sandwich; cooking particularly vegetables certain ways can enhance the chance a child will at least try them, create shish kabobs vegetables and lean beef, meat on a stick grilled or glazed and baked. Steam them and melt a little feta, goat or low fat cheddar, mozzarella cheese over them, coat them lightly in garlic sauce, other seasoning then sauté or bake, pace a mix of many vegetables in soup. Green beans, cabbage can be cooked under meats such as chicken in slow cooker style or placed in a pan and cooked in a low sodium chicken or beef broth, with healthy meat flavors, turkey bacon or sausage being two popular choices; plus most of these can be adapted to schools who “only have the ability to reheat frozen and processed foods.”
Similarly variety can change quality currently can’t; looking at the success story in the ABC news segment given at the top of the piece, the success story is in a San Diego school where they did ban junk food long ago. However, San Diego has location on its side being a coast city where they have immediate access to a host of fruits and vegetables in better condition, riper, more ready to eat than things taken from the vine, plant, stalk too early meant to ripen on the way to stores in the middle of the country sans becoming overripe before they get there. Until transportation of produce drastically improves, speeds up, quickly supplying good tasting, minimally bruised, properly ripened fruits and vegetables school lunch programs and kids on the receiving end of rubber like apples, sour oranges will only be pushed toward unhealthy, so called processed food. Speaking of processed foods, vending machines are not placed in school to singularly profit the processed food industry, scratch the backs of lobbyists, campaign contributors; they were placed there as revenue generators for schools, machines by the way often frequented by kids, many with their parent’s permission, knowledge, not to mention money. Apparently not good enough less for the president, perhaps even the first lady and more for health food zealots, is that vending machines nationwide have not all been pulled under federal initiatives, rather by school choice; government guidelines only stipulated they provide exclusively healthy options like juice and crackers, popcorn, fruit cups and granola bars, deadline fall of 2014. We have yet to see how this will effect schools and kids, which things work best, still MSNBC’s guest chef and droves of others are blasting republicans claiming they are currying favor to the processed food industry to get back money; conveniently forgotten too is the never to be under estimated ingenuity of kids who will take their lunch money to the convenience store across the street from school and buy junk, take allowance and do the same. Kids who will raid their cupboards at home for rare sweet treats and occasionally consumed unhealthy foods to trade with friends whose parents aren’t hyper vigilant bordering on control freaks; once that child is in Jr. high, high school they will make their own choices regardless of how they have necessarily been raised, the bubble their parents and their school has tried to keep them in. Especially true regarding kids who do odd jobs for money, mow laws, shovel driveways, babysit for cash; high school often means after school job, off campus lunch privileges meaning all bets are off in the make kids eat healthy war we insist on fighting in all the wrong ways.
Read first-hand about cupcake mom.
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Next at issue remains the calorie counts mandated for each segment of schools, elementary, middle/Jr. high, high schools leaving many students purportedly hungry; why, healthy lunches are now comprised of a litany of fruit and veggie options accompanied by whole wheat wraps, whole wheat spaghetti, no meat present in sauce, nothing else. Meaning even with seconds on fruits and vegetables there is not enough to keep them full between lunch and the end of the school day, never mind lunch and dinner at home especially for middle, junior high and high school kids in the midst of growth spurts, boys at this age who seem to consume their body weight in meals. Anyone who has gone on a diet or simply tried an all fruit breakfast knows you are hungry in 30 minutes, all vegetable lunches are the same way unless you include richer, starchier ones like corn, peas, avocado, potato usually cooked. Closely examining the food waste represented in the video above, schools even under the new guidelines are still serving containers of canned pears predictably in light syrup, because though health experts tout you can get them in water at your local store, they are hard to find, all unopened and throw away because no one wanted them, a notation all 111 vegetable containers the week prior met an identical fate. Once more predictably canned, soaking in sodium, so regardless of claims the lunches are almost too healthy, it’s actually better that they don’t want to eat the fruit and veggie rejects peddled to them. Compounding the problem, as long as sack lunch is an option, students will be filling up on deli sandwiches baked chips and a piece of fruit they will most likely discard for poor quality more than their disdain for healthy food. Completely ignored is the revamp attempts effect and support of fringe, zealot, activist parents who are on the far end of the other extreme, the mother who lead a crusade to eliminate cupcakes in her children’s school, had during class birthday parties that turned into the cupcake provision in the later passed school lunch revision bill, the mother who lead an after school program taking 6 year olds into the grocery store to teach not only food label education but had their young mouths trying to pronounce partially hydrogenated whatever it was, when most are just beginning to read, write their name, while telling them why they should leave it on the shelf. Who could forget the 9 year old news outlets said had moxie for dressing down a McDonald’s CEO about using toys and cartoons to get kids to eat unhealthy food and parents who only comprehended her food extremist mother was pulling the strings; not the series of YouTube videos promoting things most kids would never eat kale chips to name one, the exact opposite effect their environment of exclusion has on their child when they go off to summer camp, college, have opportunities to actually taste parent banned foods. The cult they ultimately end up creating around junk food causing an almost pathological desire for them and little else. Endeavoring to answer how much of the obesity problem in America is caused by their tactics from people who drink soda for breakfast to those who taste things for the first time never being able to employ moderation because they’ve never been taught it or have to be taught it in a support group, eating disorder clinic.
[vimeo 18379731 w=500 h=400]
KINDERGARTEN GOURMETS: The French School Lunch from david turecamo on Vimeo.
Finally perhaps more important the understanding perhaps Michelle Obama for all her good intentions and all her initiatives meant to get this nation to get a handle on their waist lines, to get kids healthy and not shorten their lifespans hasn’t made the impact experts give her credit for, nearly as significant as coming to grips with we may well have never known what caused the obesity “epidemic” in the first place therefore how can you solve something you don’t even know where, how it began, its reduction seeming to happen without our intervention, is the full scope surrounding always having food debates jammed in our faces. Repeatedly perpetuating the idea one cookie, one snack cake, the occasional meal out, can of soda will lead to your, your child’s becoming 500 pounds, along with extreme weightless results stemming from this product that one, supposed health experts lending credence to the ridiculous misconception you will, are supposed to have the same body at 40, 50, 60 you did at 25; what arguably really leads to adult obesity change in hormone levels, the body’s natural ability to process various types of food, hmm. Also to be met with a critical eye is any national push across the globe with the express purpose of curbing obesity; the unvarnished truth taxes on soda, junk food, bans on catsup, limits on mayonnaise and cream sauces in schools don’t achieve anything to change numbers on a scale more importantly attitude regarding banned condiments as ABC news demonstrated in 2012 offering banned catsup to a French high school student who commented the food item gave the meat he was eating taste. Irony not lost on anyone they do have a lot of sauce banning catsup, waging a default war on fast food a-la McDonald’s known there as Mc-dope, when the lunch ladies are concurrently frying the broccoli and not being shy about it either.