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What's really in your kid's lunch?!

As a child in elementary and middle school I was always sent to school with a funky looking lunch box or bag. Inside my personal lunch container were items most kids had never seen or heard of. I had rice milk in a box, multi-grain sprouted bread, sprouts on my sandwich and organic peanut butter with organic jelly. I had carrot sticks for snacks while the majority of my friends got fruit roll-ups and yogurt that came in a tube and squirted fun, bright colors. I was always jealous of my friends who got to eat hot lunch and enjoyed their tater-tots and school lasagna, even though they often said it was gross. It looked and smelled so much better than my box of organic raisins or my local, organic broccoli florets! I was constantly made fun of for having different food than everyone else. Sometimes my friends wouldn't even sit with me because I had such "weird food." I was poked and made fun of for having different food everyday.

Today, as a young adult, and after being educated about fast food, I could not be more grateful to my parents for feeding me healthy, nutritious snacks during my school day. After hearing an odd rumor that the meat served in schools is the meat that fast food chains and grocery stores reject, I decided to do my own research. It turns out, the rumor is true. This doesn't help considering that, as President Obama stated in 2009, for many children, school lunches are "their most nutritious meal — sometimes their only meal — of the day."

Although the U.S. Department of Agriculture says "the meat it buys for the National School Lunch Program meets or exceeds standards in commercial products" this is hardly the case. It turns out, McDonald's, Burger King and Cosco test the ground beef they buy five to ten times more often than the USDA tests beef made for school lunches during a normal production day. Jack in the Box has standards that are ten times more rigorous than what the USDA sets for school beef.

When it comes to the quality of chicken being served at school lunch time, most of the meat is produced from hens who are past their "egg laying years" and therefore not good for anything anymore. If these chickens are not being served to our kiddos at lunch time, they are being ground up for pet food or turned into compost. KFC won't buy these chickens, so why should the schools? Isn't it sad that you can get a better lunch at McDonald's then at your child's public school?

Luckily, some action has been taken since the meat reports from schools have been released. Jamie Oliver's "Food Revolution" has made a fairly big impact and there have been various blogs written by outraged parents and community advocates. One such blog titled, "Fed Up With Lunch" is written by an anonymous teacher who calls herself "Mrs. Q" in her blog and works at an anonymous public school. She chose to spend 2010 eating school lunch every day and then documenting photos of the (let's be honest, sad-looking) food on her tray, providing some nutritional information, commenting on the taste, and detailing the not-so-pretty bellyaches she's had since beginning the project.
Mrs. Q writes that the timing of her project is critical because, "The Child Nutrition Act is being debated in Congress. It's important that people realize that funding for school lunches is vital to children's success in school and in life."

Michelle Obama also took action and promised less sugar, bad fats and calories on kids plates. While this was aimed more at child obesity, any action taken to help our kids eat a healthier lunch is a step in right direction.

Hopefully we will continue to work at getting our kids healthy foods that they like eating. The school day is a time for learning and lunch time should not be excluded from that premise. Lunch time could be viewed as a time to teach children about what are good fruits and vegetables and what quality meats taste like so that they are able to make better decisions on their own in the future.

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