I recently watched "Jaime's Food Revolution USA," the show in which the famous chef tried to change the school lunch program for one of America's most unhealthy towns: Huntington, W.Va.
It made me take a closer look at the food being served to our kids, and maybe it's time to ask Mr. Oliver to come and make over the lunch menu for the Glendale Unified School District.
Any parent who visits one of our schools during lunchtime will see that all of the entrees come prepackaged and are simply heated up. Nothing is freshly prepared. Even the salad bar items — carrots, salad greens and fruit — are all pre-washed and packaged.
I looked up the menus online and checked out the nutritional information for the elementary menu. My kids like the macaroni and cheese, so I looked up the totals for that entree and the salad with ranch dressing, grapes and chocolate milk that they typically get with it.
The totals were shocking. There were 751 calories in this meal (more than a third of the Recommended Daily Allowance for lower-elementary-age children). It contained almost 38 grams of fat (56% of RDA), 21 grams of which were saturated fat (94% of RDA). But what disturbed me the most was the amount of sodium — 1,993 mg. That's nearly one teaspoon. The American Heart Assn. recommends no more than 1,900 mg per day for children 4 to 8 years old.
Our children were taught basic nutrition in school this year, yet it doesn't seem to be put into practice in the lunchroom. The schools bring in outside vendors several times a month — McDonald's, Domino's Pizza, Wienerschnitzel, California rolls and barbecue.
Where is the nutritional information for these providers? Does anyone really think this is healthy food?
According to the School Nutrition Assn., the national average cost to prepare a school lunch is about $3. While the federal government provides a reimbursement of 23 cents per paid meal and the districts do get government commodities worth about 18 cents per meal, school nutrition programs are often losing money on each meal served.
For example, Glendale Unified charges just $2 per student meal, so it's easy to see why they serve low-cost, processed foods.
We are a family of vegetarians, so there are usually only one or two days per week that the school lunch has a selection that my kids can eat. Most days they get a carton of yogurt, some salad or other vegetables, fruit and milk or we pack a lunch from home. I know I could send food every day and avoid the school lunches altogether, but it's very convenient for me, and the kids like to get the hot lunch once in a while.
Most parents assume that the food served to their children is wholesome and nutritious, not laden with fat and salt. So I ask the district: Isn't there a better way?