The wheels of school lunch reform are finally starting to turn, even if pizza is still considered a vegetable.
The days of fuzzy chicken nuggets, grey burgers, and gelatinous square pizza are fading away. President Obama signed the Child Nutrition Bill three years ago, which gave the USDA authority to set nutritional standards for all foods regularly sold in schools during the school day, including vending machines, the “a la carte” lunch lines, and school stores.
Congress passed the $4 billion bill, but regular citizens are responsible for getting their attention. Although schools have started serving more nutritious foods—breads and crusts with whole grains, fruits and vegetables, salads—the war is still on. The USDA had a PR nightmare in 2012 with “pink slime”—a meat byproduct made of random cow parts and ammonia—yet schools in Iowa, Nebraska, and South Dakota continue to serve the stuff.
On a global scale, school lunch reform has been a common theme. In England, flamboyant chef, Jamie Oliver, took up the cause, and in the U.S., blogger Sarah Wu (aka Mrs. Q), First Lady Michelle Obama, and Chef Ann Cooper have carried the torch. All of their efforts worked to ensure that the future leaders of the world wouldn’t be fed the cheapest, most processed, and least nutritious junk imaginable.
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First lady Michelle Obama has championed the issue of children’s health and nutrition through her Let’s Move! campaign and other programs that improve access to fresh produce. Today, she and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced changes to the national school lunch program, as outlined by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act that was passed last year. The act gives the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for all foods served in schools.
The event was held at Parklawn Elementary School in Alexandria, Virginia. Students and parents attending the event will be served a healthy meal prepared by celebrity chef Rachael Ray and school’s food service staff.
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How many times have any of us ever forgotten our lunch? It’s a pretty mundane event, we either skip or find a plan B and move on with our day. For Sarah Wu, it was not a common occurrence to leave her lunch at home. Making lunches for she and her toddler son was a part of her routine. However, one fateful day she did forget her lunch and what happened after that changed her life.
Sarah is a speech pathologist for Chicago Public Schools, and in 2009 she was working in one of the largest and poorest schools in the city (she remains there today). She forgot her lunch, but felt a little relief because for three dollars she could walk to the cafeteria and pick up that day’s hot plate. She admits to having ” a minimal understanding of food and scratch cooking” but upon receiving her school lunch that fateful day, she said “I knew there was something wrong with that meal.”
It was a bagel dog, a hot dog encased in a starchy white bagel crust, that was pretty soggy. This was served with a handful of tater tots (which qualifies as a vegetable serving), a Jell-O cup (a qualified fruit serving), and a chocolate milk. Almost immediately Sarah became “Fed Up With Lunch,” the title of her blog-turned-book in which she “outs” the goings on of the school cafeteria and how our children are being fed nothing more than processed, chemical junk.
“I didn’t think there was much I could do,” Wu told us, who took on the pen name “Mrs. Q” to protect her fragile anonymity. She agonized for weeks over what she was seeing at school before she finally started her Fed Up With Lunch blog, where she committed to eating lunch in the school cafeteria every day for an entire school year. She photographed the meals each day, all of which are shared in a photo insert in the book, and wrote about what she was served, what she was learning about the school food industry, and even the effects she was seeing on her students as a result of these meals.
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