My girls may have two full weeks left before it’s ‘back to the books’ at our local public school, but across the country many kids have already returned to the classroom. And, perhaps to a more high-profile extent, to the cafeteria.
Earlier this month the first daughters, Malia and Sasha Obama, were used as bait in an advertisement aimed at spurring school food reform; the White House grounds are sporting a kitchen garden; and better nutrition for public school students is prioritized on both the President and First Lady’s agenda. All of this in a year when the Child Nutrition Act is set to be reassessed has parents and teachers alike optimistic that much needed changes in school food policy are soon to come.
I’d love to say I’m with them, but I’m not. Especially if the photo of the School Nutrition Association’s convention at the top of the New York Times’ recent article, Stars Aligning on School Lunches, is any indication. Uncrustables — life size or otherwise — are exactly the fare we need to be moving away from.
That said, a complete skeptic I am not. I’m excited that our government is finally open to having this conversation, I’m hopeful that the national school lunch budget will be boosted significantly — a sure step in the right direction — and I’m even naively crossing my fingers that changes to nutrition standards will be stringent and meaningful; though I know it’s unlikely.
Still, school lunch menus are a passionate pet peeve of mine and I am realistic in knowing that even the greatest of efforts on the part of our legislators will likely fall short of the standards I would like to see in place. Since our oldest daughter’s first foray into the lunch room of our tiny, rural public school I have been aghast with what has graced their menu. The same greasy, pre-packaged food that I ate as a student there is still the fare served today.
Pizza, soft pretzels, chicken nuggets, mashed potatoes and chicken gravy, macaroni and cheese, canned peas. It’s a cycle of one carbohydrate filled, sodium laden meal after another. And, probably even worse, the kids love it — and a grand majority of the parents see no problem with it. Meanwhile I’m drooling over one of my favorite food blogger’s tales of homegrown snacks for her daughter’s school; wishing I could even dream of tackling such a project for the more than 350 students in our public school and knowing that red tape and lack of available elbow grease make it impossible.
What is possible however, is putting my efforts towards packing nutritious lunches at home — and for fun packaging them in adorable, reusable, and homemade wares like the sandwich bags and reusable bottle sleeves available on Etsy. So can you.
Not sure what to pack? Shop your local farmer’s market for fresh, local ideas. This time of year fresh tomato sandwiches, salads heavy with in-season veggies, and wraps with a small cup of dipping sauce like herb mustard are all big hits here. The trick: keep it simple. Favorite lunches are often the ones we can eat piece-by-piece with our fingers. Besides, fruits and veggies claimed finger-food status long before chicken nuggets hit supermarket shelves.