Schools can make gigantic leaps in improving their lunch menus
by making them much healthier, but one question remains . . . are the students actually eating what's on the menu?
Studies across America are showing that not only are kids denying these healthful lunches, they are actually bringing in fatty foods from home.
Take, for example, the Los Angeles Unified School District, which is one of the largest school districts in the nation. Last year, they began aggressively phasing out junk food and replacing it with healthy food; such as swapping out corn dogs and chocolate milk for quinoa salads, vegetarian curries and low-fat or fat-free skim milk. Despite these efforts, the changed menus were less than popular among the student body that experienced these switches firsthand.
Closer examination reveals that the students have been throwing away most of the school's meals and bringing in their own junk food, which forced the district to eventually bring back some of the foods that it originally vowed to permanently remove
from its menus.
Additionally, thousands of students stopped participating in their school's lunch programs, and principals all over the district are reporting massive amounts of waste that includes unopened milk cartons and uneaten lunches. On some campuses, students are actually cashing in on these menu changes by selling chips, candy, burgers from fast food restaurants, and other junk food
to students, creating an “underground market” behind the faculty's backs that undoes any benefits the healthy lunch items may provide.
While L.A. Unified had its heart (and waistline) in the right place, it was not able to force students into accepting its revised menu. Following the loud complaints from students, food services director Dennis Barrett recently announced that the menu would once again be changed. Much like before the changes, burgers will once again be offered on a daily basis, and the "exotic" dishes like vegetable curry, pad Thai, lentil and brown rice cutlets, and quinoa salads will be offered less frequently.
Wherever possible, however, the meals will include healthy ingredients. For example, instead of bringing back just the regular pizza, the school system is replacing the white crust with whole wheat, and is using low-fat cheese and low-sodium sauce instead of the traditional ingredients.
This recent news showcases the importance of teaching the right mindset to students. Implementing healthy menus and banning fatty junk foods are just not enough. The students are the second part of the equation, and parents and students alike must be held accountable for their decisions. Making children eat healthier is certainly a challenge, especially when new, foreign foods are introduced. But without eventual acceptance, the programs are doomed for failure.