Too Cool For School Lunches?

By Christina Finch

One of my clearest memories of middle and high school was lunch time. I went to three different high schools in two states, but the routine was pretty much the same. That was my opportunity to catch up on gossip and figure out future plans with my friends and to just take a break from learning. I particularly remember during middle school that I was enrolled in the school lunch program provided by the government, which allowed me to have my lunch at a discounted price. The nice thing about it was not only did it provide a supportive means for me and my family, but also I knew that I never had to worry about where I was getting my lunch from. But while this program provided a great resource, it did not always coincide with what was “cool” with being a teenager in this day in age.

The National School Lunch Program is now offered in over 100,000 schools in the country and provided for 30.5 million children in 2007. Schools receive subsidies from the government in exchange for providing either free or reduced lunches for children from low-income families. These lunches must meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans and meet the Recommended Daily Allowances for vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories.

Below is an example of a one week menu from the Seattle Public schools website:
Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday
Chicken Drummies Veggie Burger,American Cheese Yogurt & Muffin Munchable Hot corn niblets Garden Salad Baby Carrots Cinnamon Bug Bites Beef Teriyaki Dippers Bean & Cheese Burrito w/ salsa Yogurt & Muffin Munchable Steamed Brown Rice Garden Salad Sugar snap peas Juicy orange wedges Pudding Cup Crispy Chicken & Cheddar Wrap Whoe Grain Cheese Pizza Garden Salad Carrot Coins Kool Kiwi Fruit 100% Fruit Juice Hawaiian Luau Chicken Vegetable Egg Roll w/ Sweet & Sour Sauce Coconut Curry Rice Garden Sala Cucumber coins Petite Banana Breaded Chicken Burger on a Multigrain bun Vegetarian Chili w/ cheddar cheese, corn tortilla chips Garden Salad Baby Carrots Chilled Applesauce Seasonal fresh fruit

The program provides nutritious foods for students, thereby teaching them how to eat healthy, well balanced foods. According to Whitney, et al., “students who regularly eat school lunches have higher intakes of many nutrients and fiber than students who do not (574).”

Being a kid in the age of Taco Bell, Pizza Hut and McDonalds made participating in this program pretty difficult socially. You always want to “fit in” with your friends – whether it is clothes, music, school activities or even food. I remember how oftentimes I would come to the table with my cafeteria tray full of nutritious foods, but felt a little bit like an outcast when I sat next to my other friends that had their Big Macs, Nachos Bell Grande and pepperoni pizza. My mom and friends were great about it – my friends would never tease me or make me feel bad, and my mom would let me have one day a week where I could bring money to buy “cool” food.

In the moment I definitely did not see the benefit of having this resource, but I can see now that it not only helped me by instilling healthy eating habits early on, but it helped my family as well. Surely now (more than 10 years later) students utilizing this program is a little more commonplace than it was when I was in middle school.

USDA National School Lunch Program:
Seattle Public School District:
Whitney, E., Rolfes, S (2008). Understanding Nutrition. Wadsworth, Cenage Learning.