20 Comments
Sep 21, 2021Liked by Virginia Sole-Smith

"Letting" my daughter eat school lunch was a HUGE thing for me when she started kindergarten -- I stressed about it so much I brought it to my therapist. Then I realized something really important: a) wow, what a bunch of privileged garbage; and b) it was 110% about my own food issues and NOT ABOUT MY KID (or at least not entirely). She wanted -- and still wants -- to eat school lunch. Great! Less work for me!

We live in a district (in Wisconsin; and trust me, everyone I know questioned what the hell happened in Waukesha) that has a very strong farm-to-school program -- we not only know where their food comes from, we drive by the farms where it grows on a regular basis. Does my kid come home and tell me she ate ranch dressing -- and only ranch dressing -- for lunch from time to time? Yes. But there are also all the other days when she says she ate a hamburger or pasta with marinara sauce or chicken strips (all things she would likely refuse at home or at a restaurant) and I think to myself, what's a few ranch days here and there? This is a good tradeoff!

(I also count my blessings for the farm-to-school program -- I know there are millions of kids out there who are probably not eating food fresh food from five miles down the road, so I recognize that is an element of our privilege too.)

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I love that you worked through your stuff to embrace school lunch and yes! Ranch dressing lunches are totally worth the trade-off! (And yes, so cool that you have a robust farm-to-school program. There is some great legislation pending right now that could make that much more common...)

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That's great news. Farm-fresh food should be a basic right of every school kid in America.

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Sep 29, 2021Liked by Virginia Sole-Smith

We started out school assuming I would have to pack, because my kids are picky (sensory issues/autism). Turned out they would eat school lunch, sometimes. Our lunches are consistently mediocre (my kids' assessment, not only my own--older one is now in high school and has food opinions). We wound up doing a mix. There are certain school lunches they will not touch, so they check the calendar and on those days they pack. The funny part is that their packed lunches really probably aren't healthier than school lunch. Younger kid accepts precisely TWO sandwich fillings.

Relatedly: There was a NYT article yesterday on school lunch shortages, and the comments were full of finger wagging about packing. Someone was saying that it would be better to send a peanut butter sandwich plus veggies and fruit, and I just thought "that isn't really healthier than the school lunch."

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Completely agreed about packed lunches often being less nutritionally varied than what a school food program can deliver! I saw that piece and discussed it in my Instagram Stories yesterday but haven't braced myself for the comments...

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I agree that if all students and teachers participated in school lunch the economics would improve and therefore the quality. But absent making participation mandatory that won't happen until the following changes:

1. Government catches up with science. The current school food regulations have very strict saturated fat and sodium levels but NO LIMIT on sugar. The glucose load of school food and snacks is ridiculously high. Only non-fat chocolate milk and 1% reg milk are allowed in schools. School breakfasts are incredibly high in sugar (low fat flavored yogurt, sugary cereal, french toast sticks, "muffins" (cake wrapped in plastic) and juice. And schools regularly feed children bags of 51% whole grain cookies everyday for a mid morning snack. When I think of "diet culture" I think of the non-fat, low sodium craze of the 80's and 90's that has infiltrated school food since the early 2000s and stuck hard. Diet culture is what has given us non-fat chocolate milk as a daily beverage option. I don't believe you can label wanting to eat a balanced diet of real food as "diet culture". No, diet culture is the non-fat, fake sugar, 100 calorie snack pack nightmare that has gotten us to a pretty rough state of childhood nutrition.

2. Nice, white administrators. I listened to the nice white parent podcast and liked it. But I don't think that advocating for healthier school meals is the nice, white parent approach. The nice white approach I see is from school administrators, that when asked to improve morning snacks from cookies to cheese, fruit, grain crackers, veggies, etc. make the case that "poor kids just need food in their bellies and we can't be choosy". I beg to differ. I don't think that poor parents would agree. If anything, we should be making school food healthier for those children. Rather than using their poverty as an excuse to feed them garbage.

I encourage other parents who read this to go to school with your kid to see what choices they have at school breakfast, snack, and lunch. And keep in mind that if your school is getting extra grants, programs, etc. to help with nutritional quality of those meals, that's great, but it's not the norm for schools across the country. In order to help all kids we need regulation that has nutrition as its focus. Not diet culture of the 80s and 90s "nutrition". Just regular, balanced, whole food meals.

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Sep 21, 2021Liked by Virginia Sole-Smith

I loved this piece. My kid started school this year and has diagnosed sensory processing challenges, so I just packed him a lunch even though his school is participating in the lunch program. I was amazed to find that some data he’d come home with a full lunchbox, because he wanted to try the school lunch! And other days he skips it and eats what I send him with. Either way is cool. I didn’t think that we would benefit from the universal lunch program because of my kid’s sensory stuff, but it’s been a really nice low key way to let him try the food his classmates are enjoying, with no pressure.

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Oh I LOVE this.

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Sep 21, 2021Liked by Virginia Sole-Smith

I really appreciate this information! My little guy just started daycare (and just started solid food) so this won't be an issue for us for a while. But it's something to think about for us as ethical vegans. We've always said that he will be allowed to choose not to eat vegan when he's not in our home, but I also assumed I would be sending school lunches--even though I ate from the cafeteria growing up. So I didn't really think about him making this decision every day from kindergarten onward. It looks like this will be something to navigate if (hopefully!) universal free lunch is here to stay.

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Oh yes, that is an interesting challenge. I know some school districts are trying to offer more plant-based entrees but not sure about full vegan.

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founding

Thank you for this. So much. We are in the "I wish you would eat school lunch but you would probably not or you would just eat the bread and then be hungry" camp. It's also not clear how to actually get a school lunch at our school because the kids eat outside (which is good!). I think starting with one day a week (or pizza, as someone suggested before) would be great. Any ideas for having that conversation or convincing my kid to try it? (Of course, I could just say this is what is happening, deal with it, but I think it wouldn't go well.) I also (ugh) bought one of those little lunchboxes with boxes inside it, but more because my 4 y/o can't open containers very well and wasn't eating her food (there are 28 kindergartners, so ...). This morning I realized the compartments in those containers are SO small. Like I can barely fit a mini bagel in one of them. I also hate how it's forcing me to pack her 7 different foods. Good grief. I am trying to also pack for a baby in the morning.

Would you consider interviewing Jessica McCrory Calarco? I saw her posting on twitter about the craziness in Wisconsin with some fascinating insights.

Thank you!!

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Oh and will go look up Jessica right now, thanks!

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Full disclosure, I'm a fan of EasyLunchboxes when we pack, which are *technically* a bento, but just three, decent-sized compartments. Coming up with seven foods is nuts! In terms of discussing this with your kiddo; I think showing her the menu and seeing if there is a day she wants to try is a great start. Maybe also letting her teacher know that this will be her first time, so they can make sure to walk her through the process; we did that when my kiddo first bought in kindergarten and the result was she happily bought every day for the rest of the year (then randomly decided to go back to home packed lunches for first grade... progress not perfection is def the goal here!). Hopefully looping in a teacher would also help suss out how to acquire lunch before eating outside etc.!

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founding

Thank you! Ordered : ) Three items are much more realistic. Also, we had a panic this morning because she wanted me to remove items from her lunchbox because the aide was forcing kids to eat everything they had.

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Agh! That's a tough one -- I'll be tackling that question in today's audio newsletter, so def listen if that becomes an ongoing thing you need to address.

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I am all for kids taking advantage of free lunch. That said, mine is one who would never in a million years touch anything that comes through her cafeteria. For so many reasons! Not a "meal" kind of kid. She won't try meat of any kind. She's particular about her pizza. Etc But honestly the food also doesn't look good to her. (And me too, since I used to cover lunch duty a few years ago in her cafeteria, a few days a week.) There was a time when school lunches were actually made by lunch ladies but that time, at least where we live (larger city in the SE), is gone. So while I want to chalk it all up to diet culture, and totally agree that's a huge part, I think there's also a large part that is kid personal preference and lunches not looking appealing or being tasty.

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replying to myself, lol! But am realizing, too, there is also something about opening up her lunchbox to see what I packed and what I joke/note I wrote that she really looks forward to. I think that's another factor, for us personally, why she wouldn't take advantage of cafeteria lunch.

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founding

I desperately want my kids to eat school lunch. But the meals are just not enough food for my kids (and probably countless others). My kids have always had big appetites and an entree with 2 small sides (at least one of which they usually reject) is not enough. Last year I encouraged school lunch but then still ended up packing a lunchbox full of supplementary food to fill them up.

We also had a big issue in our district last year of food shortages. It is frustrating to no end that it went unresolved until a group of parents rallied at our school to provide additional food to teachers to hand out to kids who were still hungry. I acknowledge and appreciate the privilege that enabled that to happen at our school and it breaks my heart that it didn't happen at too many schools.

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Love this so much I subscribed on the spot. My kid is in kindergarten and we are absolutely encouraging him to have school lunches. Our district is doing free lunch (and breakfast, but we haven't tried to get him to school earlier for that) for everyone, and each day there's a hot meal or a choice of PB&J, cheese sandwich, or yogurt and graham crackers. So far he mostly seems to be doing cheese sandwich because a lot of days I think he finds the hot option a little confusing -- we try to talk him through what that choice is each day so he'll be prepared to make his pick, but, like, what even is a beef or bean nacho bowl with rice? Is it nachos with rice as well as corn chips? Is it actually a burrito bowl? I don't know what to tell him, and yet there I was, urging him to choose that because honestly any set of possible components would be things he'd like.

BUT. A few days ago he says to me "Did you know that people can also bring home lunch?" Uh, yes, though I was hoping you wouldn't notice that. A key problem here is he likes peanut butter sandwiches without jelly, which are not one of the options at school. I think we are on our way to a deal that he can have one home lunch a week.

But I can't stop thinking of two conversations I had with mothers of his podmates from last year. One of them is a stay-at-home-mom who has an older kid who did kindergarten (or most of it) pre-pandemic, and she was telling me how her daughter would often take the PB&J option at school and she was like "I don't want to pay $5 or whatever for her to eat PB&J when I could make it for less!" A week or so later I was talking school lunches with the second one, who is in public health, so you can imagine HER work life these days, and she was, like me, hoping her kid wouldn't even notice that home lunch was an option. I reported the earlier conversation and she's going "That's 15 minutes of my life! I'll pay for it!" Same.

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I should clarify re the lunch choices: my kid's school has them tell their teacher their choice first thing each morning and then as far as I understand the lunches arrive to where they are eating (usually outside), so they aren't in a cafeteria line getting to look at things and choose by what looks good.

Also, I always find the discussions of the stigma of getting free lunch so fascinating, because that makes total sense to me, but I was also once a full-price lunch kid in a school where teachers routinely read out the list of who got free and reduced-price lunch, and ... I did not know what it even meant. I spent years of my life wondering why those kids got their lunches for free and I didn't. Now of course I look back and I'm outraged on their behalf (and I told my mom about it recently and she was outraged I hadn't told her at the time so she could go tear someone at the school a new one), but at the time I had no clue. And obviously it wasn't something that I learned from my peers.

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