Public school lunches are not often hailed for their culinary appeal. I can still remember the “food” my elementary school provided which often consisted of meat loaf with a side of lunch lady hair. Once, when I was in fourth grade, a friend of mine found a burnt tooth in his grilled cheese—I kid you not.
When I started middle school in sixth grade, I had enough sense to start bringing my lunch from home. My mom complained at first because the ham and turkey sandwich, fruit and brownie filled meals she was now providing for me were more expensive than the $1.87 lunches my school provided. However, she couldn't argue that the lunches she was packing for me were far more nutritional and balanced then those from my school cafeteria.
When I started high school in 2012, I was perfectly happy bringing my monkey-shaped lunch box filled with yummy goodies to school, but I noticed that the old heaps of lumpy potatoes served by the school were turning into cheesy calzones and crispy chicken sandwiches. And it wasn’t just because I had changed schools.
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture established nutritional standards for school breakfasts and lunches. Specifically, they increased the amount of fruit, vegetables, grains and low-fat milk in school lunches and reduced levels of sodium, saturated fats and trans fats. They also ensured that breakfasts lunches met the caloric requirements of students.
House bill 610, recently introduced into the United States House of Representatives, establishes the No Hungry Kids Act, which abolishes the standards set by the USDA. This Act poses a direct threat to school meal nutritional standards and some say it is Betsy DeVos’s first attack on public schools.
Nutritional meals may be more expensive than ones made of moldy cheese and stale bread, but they provide parents struggling to make ends meet with the peace of mind that their children are eating at least one decent meal a day.
I had two friends whose mothers were lunch ladies. I can remember them telling me in high school that their moms were having to change the recipes in the kitchens to make the lunches healthier and more nutritious. Better ingredients were being put into school meals and well-fed students were the result.
I’ll never forget the time when my mom came home one evening when I was in middle school looking heartbroken. At the time, she was a third-grade teacher at a Title I elementary school, which means that a high number of the enrolled students came from low-income families.
A student had told her that day that for dinner the night before, she had to split a hotdog five ways with the four other members of her family. The breakfasts and lunches she received at school were the only source of reliable food she received on weekdays, and her family struggled for decent meals on weekends.
While still in its beginning stages, this bill marks the beginning of a long struggle for public education. Aside from establishing the No Hungry Kids Act, bill 610 also establishes an education voucher program to encourage parents to homeschool their children or put them in private schools.
If you find this bill as ludicrous as I do, tell your legislator. They are called your representatives for a reason. Shoot them an email or call them at their office and tell them what your thoughts are. Stand up for nutritional school meals because to some children, they are the only reliable food they have.