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Dirty Secrets of School Lunches

”]Sarah Wu is a speech pathologist in the Chicago public school system, and she is about to reveal all the dirty, little secrets of school lunches.

Every day for a year, Wu ate the same school lunch her students ate. She photographed them, ate them, evaluated them, and then wrote about her experiences on a blog called Fed Up With Lunch, under the pen name “Mrs. Q.” Her blogs have been gathered in a book titled Fed Up with Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Survived a Year of School Lunches.

Wu talked about the inspiration for her blog in an article in USA Today:

It all started one day when Wu didn’t have time to pack her own lunch and bought a school lunch instead. It was a hot dog encased in soggy dough, six tater tots, a Jell-O cup and chocolate milk, she says. “I thought to myself, ‘I cannot believe this is the food the kids are eating.'”

She was working in a large elementary school where more than 90% of the kids qualified for free and reduced lunches. “Many of my students were coming from poverty,” says Wu, who has a 3-year-old son. “Their families were living paycheck to paycheck. Many of my students relied on school lunch for their best meal of the day.”

Other yummies she ate?  Heavily processed chicken nuggets, an unusual peanut butter and jelly sandwich that made her sick, mystery meats and reheated vegetables.

School lunches have been the source of many debates among school officials, nutritionists, and parents. I recall hearing school officials, including a school dietitian, justify serving fast food in schools. In that particular Pennsylvania school system, fast food companies “donated” several thousands of dollars to the school in exchange for the right to set up fully marketed kiosks in the cafeteria. While the school dietitian admitted that the fast food was not as healthy for the children, she and the school superintendent defended the practice as a “fiscal responsible” decision. That school system was trading the kids’ health for a few bucks.

Currently, the federal government is developing new nutrition standards for school lunches. But meanwhile, schools are not doing so well. While some schools are making strides in providing lunches with fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, many others are struggling. According to Diane Pratt-Heavner, spokeswoman for the School Nutrition Association:

“We have seen a tremendous change in the cafeterias in what they are offering and what they are promoting. Wu’s story is “one snapshot in one school across the country.” Parents need to find out what’s happening in their own children’s schools, Pratt-Heavner says.

Wu says this is not about the particular school where she ate lunches (but no longer works); it is about a nationwide nutrition crisis. As she told USA Today:

“These are American kids. They need the best food we can give them.”

RESOURCES

To read the full USA Today article, click here:  ‘Fed Up with Lunch’ exposes worst school meals

To find the book on Amazon.com, click here:  FED UP WITH LUNCH

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