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This Time It’ll Be Different – But Only If We Make It So

By Kirsten DiChiappari
lunchboxWith school just around the corner (or already underway for some), chances are you’re thinking about settling back into a routine: setting earlier bedtimes, picking out clothes, packing lunches, registering for sports, etc.

If you pack your child’s lunches or if your child purchases or receives lunch at school, ask yourself: Do you know what’s in it?

A registered dietitian told me recently that there are thirty-eight ingredients in a McDonald’s chicken nugget and thirteen of them are derived from corn. The peanut butter in your cupboard may contain ingredients other than peanuts. The ketchup and pasta sauce in my fridge have high fructose corn syrup in them. The dinner rolls that come with the salad have trans fats. It’s getting so it’s not safe to open your mouth anymore.

Now here’s the part that I want you to remember: Nearly one in five (18.8%) Rhode Island children entering kindergarten during the school year 2006-07 was obese, with a BMI at or greater than the ninety-fifth percentile. That’s One in Five.

I believe that parents aren’t apathetic, but in many ways, we are ignorant. When we put our children on the bus in the morning, we firmly believe that no one would do anything that isn’t in the best interests of our children. They will be safe, well fed, and physically and mentally active while they are in school.

Keep in mind, the school lunch program is federally funded through the U.S. Department of Agriculture, not the Department of Education. And the USDA is not as concerned with your child’s weight as it is about the economy.

Some will insist “They won’t eat it” in response to demands for improvements but don’t believe the hype.

A study done by the University of Minnesota found that school lunch sales didn’t decline when healthier meals were served. Further, the study shows that more nutritious lunches don’t necessarily cost schools more to produce.

So, what is to be done? Well, first you need to find out what is happening in your own school district. Check the district website, review the wellness policy, join your PTO or district wellness committee. Ask lots and lots of questions.

I want the world to be a better place for my children. This month, my son starts his journey through education. In three years, I will be doing the same for my daughter. Will things be different? Will they be better?

Over the next several months, I will share resources, stories, and suggestions for you to get actively involved in your child’s health at school. In the meantime, here is some required surfing to get you on your way:

Two Angry Moms
Fighting for the Health of America’s Children. It’s a Movie. It’s a Movement.

Better School Food

References for article:
The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals by Michael Pollan
RI Kids Count 2008 Factbook, Childhood Obesity
A Pound of Prevention by Erin Peterson.

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  • I saw the film, Two Angry Moms last year at Vartan Gregorian which I recommend for everyone to see – the way most school lunches are run will make you angry and sick as well. I applaud the schools that have made changes to their school lunch programs – they are role models for the remaining schools. I pack lunch most days for my children because it is healthier but on the days I want my kids to buy lunch I would want to be comforted in knowing it is a healthy alternative.

  • Totally agree about everything above. My oldest started Kindergarten this week in Providence and the choices I’ve seen for the school breakfast (pancakes, muffins, sugary cereal) are the kind of thing we would offer as a rare treat, not daily nutrition. For us, it’s easy to feed him beforehand, pack a healthy lunch, etc. But many of the other kids at his school are relying on the school breakfast and lunch as their main meals of the day. I’ve read about revolutions in other school systems (Berkeley, CA has done amazing things with local, fresh food). I wonder if our new superintendent would be willing to give this some attention?

  • Amen on the corn in everything and on the school lunch food not being at all about children or nutrition or anything remotely close.

    My kids have school lunch as an option for the first time this year. Both have said they don’t want it (one is picky and one is a vegetarian), so I’m packing lunches for now. But I know that this is an issue that I’m going to end up getting involved in.

    Thanks for refocusing me, Kristen, after a summer of falling off the wagon!