March Madness: School Lunch, Pink Slime and National Nutrition Month

The coincidence of a spate of stories decrying the wide use in school lunches of what critics call “pink slime” (ammonia-treated ground beef) appearing during National Nutrition Month got me to thinking about what school children eat for lunch each day.

While healthier eating has become a passionate cause among parents in many districts, it was shocking to recently learn that the U.S. Department of Agriculture had planned to purchase 7 million pounds of ammonia-treated beef for use in school lunch programs. But after a public outcry, the USDA announced that school districts that participate in the government’s school lunch program would be allowed to reject beef containing the “pink slime” filler and select filler-free meat instead.

Several U.S. school systems, such as New York City, said they would change their cafeteria menus when the move takes effect next fall. Others, including Boston, decided to remove the ammonia-treated meat immediately. Just this week, production was halted at three of four plants that manufacture the by-product.

The irony of the “pink slime” fiasco breaking during National Nutrition Month makes the issue all the more troubling. Despite years of parents’ lobbying for healthier school meal choices, the USDA was prepared to feed kids meat whose safety was questioned by some microbiologists (other experts contend it is necessary to kill bacteria such as E. coli). On the other hand, Nutrition Month® is a nutrition education and information campaign sponsored annually by the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. The campaign is designed to focus attention on the importance of making informed food choices and developing sound eating and physical activity habits. I wonder how many parents would choose “pink slime.”

So how does a parent make informed school lunch choices?

There are two ways. One is to keep after your school district to serve healthier options. But keep in mind that the bottom line in food service programs is making a profit. If the healthy options don’t sell, the program will be in the red. A number of districts have instituted healthy lunch programs. An exemplary program is the one in the Port Washington, N.Y. school system.  The menu is filled with healthy choices including whole grain pastas, bread, brown rice, baked sweet potato puffs, yogurt, fruit and vegetable salads, turkey, home made soups, tuna, and pita and hummus, to name a few. If your district is not this enlightened, there’s another choice – pack your child’s lunch yourself.

I remember my elementary school lunch. My mother invariably packed a sandwich and a piece of fruit – an apple, orange, or pear in the winter, and a peach or plum in the warmer weather. I remember eyeing my classmates’ goodies – Twinkies, Hostess cupcakes, chips and chocolate chip cookies – with envy. I had no idea my mother was so avant-garde!

Nowadays, with insulated lunch bags and more varied offerings, you can make your child’s lunch healthy and appealing.  Here are some tips:

  • Be aware of food restrictions in your child’s school, e.g. nut allergies, and respect them.
  • Fill your child’s lunchbox with colorful foods from all food groups — proteins, fruits & vegetables, and whole grains. Consider items such as hard-boiled eggs, berries, grape tomatoes, sugar snap peas, carrots and hummus.
  • Use whole grain breads and crackers.
  • Stay away from foods high in sugar and additives.
  • Cut things in cubes, such as chicken, cheese, veggies and melon.
  • Remember finger foods and dips if you think your child can handle them. News

School Shorts – Food for Thought

With all of the attention focused on the Penn State scandal, three provocative education stories have gotten little attention. All of the issues below are worthy of an in-depth discussion. I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

Is Pizza a Vegetable – What Do You Think? 

Education Week recently reported that pizza with tomato sauce would be considered a vegetable in school lunch programs under changes proposed by Congress. The Agriculture Appropriations bill approved by a conference committee of House and Senate members would also make other changes to rules about what’s served in school lunch programs. In the Education Week piece by Nirvi Shah, Margo Wootan, director of nutrition policy for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, said the following:

“At a time when child nutrition and childhood obesity are national health concerns, Congress should be supporting the U.S. Department of Agriculture and school efforts to serve healthier school meals, not undermining them. Together the school lunch riders in the agriculture spending bill will protect industry’s ability to keep pizza and French fries on school lunch trays.”

What do you think?

Is Pizza a Vegetable? In School Lunches, Congress Says Yes

Are High School Lockers Obsolete? 

USA TODAY reported that a growing number of US high schools are eliminating lockers. Proponents of lockerless schools contend that new technology, such as iPads, are rendering the need for lockers obsolete. Supporters say removing lockers cuts down on noise and lateness, enhances school safety, and saves money. The Madison County, Mississippi School District saved $200,000 by going without lockers in its new high schools. Other schools are removing lockers from older buildings. 

Are lockers obsolete or do students still need them? 

Hall lockers? Some schools say no –

Should Parents Go To Jail if Their Kids Skip School?

Parents in Halifax County, NC may be heading to jail if their children have poor school attendance. The Halifax County court system, three public school systems and county agencies have joined forces in a new initiative called the Tri-District Truancy Procedure to address student attendance issues. 

After more than six unexcused absences, a parent or guardian will be notified by mail that they may be in violation of the Compulsory Attendance Law and may be prosecuted if the absences cannot be justified under the school system’s attendance policy. In addition, after more than six unexcused absences, school personnel will work with the student and family to find out the cause of the absences to determine what should be done. If a student has 10 unexcused absences at the discretion of the school principal, the district attorney’s office may be notified in writing, along with the Department of Social Services. 

A criminal warrant for school attendance law violation against the parent or guardian will be secured, and the parent or guardian will have to attend a truancy hearing, which could result in a 120-day jail sentence. 

School and court officials indicated these new procedures would send a message to parents about their responsibility to make sure their children are in school. 

Is this the right message to send to parents? 

Courts to punish parents on school attendance issues

News and Views – What Do You Think?

This week the news has been full of education stories of interest to parents. So many, that instead of giving my opinion on one topic, I’ve compiled a list for you of six of the most provocative issues.  I’d love to hear your opinion on any or all of these. Please leave your comments on the bottom of the page or tweet me @DrMerylAin. 

1. The Today Show reported that French schools have banned ketchup in an effort to promote healthy eating and combat childhood obesity. As anchor Savannah Guthrie pointed out, “First they give us French fries, and then they take away the ketchup!” 

Q: How healthy is your child’s lunch program? Is there anything you would like to see banned? 

2. For parents who are worried about their children’s whereabouts, there’s a new app that makes checking in a game. “Our view is that what makes kids safer is communication and being close to their folks,” said the new iPhone app’s co-creator Matthew Bromberg, “And I don’t want to know where my kid is on the map every single moment. I just want to know what’s going on.”

Q: Do you agree or is this too much control for parents to exert over their children?

3. Missouri Gov. Jay Nixon repealed teacher-student Facebook restrictions. The controversial law had limited online chats between teachers and students and some alleged that it threatened free-speech rights. 

Q: Do you think students and teachers should be Facebook friends? via @educationweek 

4. Some elite private schools in New York have reduced the burden of homework on their students.

Q: Do your kids have too much, too little, or the right amount of homework? 

5. Idaho schools will tie merit pay to factors such as parent involvement. In some south-central Idaho schools, teacher bonuses will be based on parent participation, including attendance at parent-teacher conferences. 

Q: Will this promote or stifle parent-teacher relationships?

6. Sir Ken Robinson, world-renowned educator and creativity expert, discusses changing education paradigms in a must-see provocative video. He takes on the education establishment, arguing that today’s students are not being properly educated. 

Q: Do you agree or disagree? Let’s discuss.