Our VoiceHealth & Environment

When it comes to school lunch, there’s no such thing as too healthy

Charlotte Williams • May 30, 2012

Last week the administration at New Trier High School – part of an affluent district in the suburbs of Chicago, decided that the school’s lunch provider was offering an “overly healthy ” menu to students.  Although it is ranked 27th among 890 Illinois school districts and is often thought to be on the cutting edge of academic excellence, New Trier administrators seem to have missed the memo on nutrition, education, and the diet-related health crisis youth are facing today.

The administrators claim the food vendor went overboard and school lunch sales “dropped off” when the vendor “cut all fried foods and monosodium glutamate” and made “all breads, pastas and tortillas with wheat.”  One concerned parent, remarked, “I’m sick of packing lunches.”

It is telling that the super wealthy have the privilege of making an issue of food that is too healthy.

On the other end of the spectrum, urban schools systems like the Chicago Public Schools are caught in the grips of political posturing and financial disarray and struggles to merely provide a quality education and safety for its primarily low-income students.  According to the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky, “the public school system is already $600 million to $700 million in the red, diverting more money to the charters could force it to close regular schools, slash salaries, or fire unionized teachers.”

Despite being cash-strapped, administrators understand that good nutrition is necessary to give students a chance to excel; healthy school food has made its way to CPS─and many are grateful.

National programs like Farm to School of the Community Food Security Coalition’s (CFSC) and School Food Focus work diligently to ensure that there are fair and equitable options for securing healthy food and that justice is evident all along the food chain.  Recently, the HBO series Weight of the Nation called attention to the need for individual, social, corporate, and government responsibility for healthier food options within the industrialized food system.

According to CFSC, “Children nation-wide are experiencing an epidemic of obesity. Since 1981, obesity has increased by 106% in the United States. 31% of children are overweight. Obesity rates among children have doubled in the last 10 years and tripled for adolescents.  For the first time in 200 years, today’s children are likely to have a shorter life expectancy than their parents.”

In Chicago, the Consortium to Lower Obesity in Chicago’s Children (CLOCC) found Kindergarten-aged children to be overweight at over twice the national average, and children in some Chicago communities were found to be “overweight at 3-4 times the national average.”

Chicagoland’s wealthiest schools could learn something from nine-year-old Martha Payne, a student in Scotland who has stepped up to teach her school’s administration a thing or two.  Her “real talk” blog exposed her school’s policy of serving unhealthy food to students and her efforts have resulted in fresher, healthier foods on their lunch trays.

I guess we know what Martha’s parents are telling her about a healthy school lunch.  For the sake of our kids, let’s hope common sense prevails.

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