Tomato Paste is a Vegetable? School Lunches in Shambles

school lunchThis is just ridiculous. Not surprising, but still ridiculous.

Last week, Congress released the final version of a spending bill that all but ensures school lunches continue to be the unhealthy hot mess that they currently are. Here's a summary from The NY Daily News:

"The final version of a spending bill released late Monday would unravel school lunch standards the Agriculture Department proposed earlier this year, which included limiting the use of potatoes on the lunch line and delaying limits on sodium and delaying a requirement to boost whole grains. The bill also would allow tomato paste on pizzas to be counted as a vegetable, as it is now. USDA had wanted to prevent that."

Now if you read my articles and peruse, you'll know that I'm not a fan of "whole" grains, but tomato paste counted as a vegetable? Come on now.

This type of measure personifies the challenges we face when trying to improve the health & wellness of our families, schools and kids. Poor Jamie Oliver's head must have exploded when he read this as he's been on a personal mission to improve the quality and health of our nation's school lunches. Jamie's been working tirelessly with his Food Revolution movement to educate kids and rally support for improving the quality of food in our school system (I highly encourage you to sign his petition if you haven't already).

It truly is up to us to push back and DEMAND change from policy writers and politicians.

It's also up to us to shift the paradigm of thought when it comes to kid's nutrition. I've worked with dozens of clients over the years who were working hard to make changes in their diet and eating healthy foods, all the while continuing to feed their kids chicken nuggets and fries. When I ask the reason for the disparity in nutrition, some would reply, "that's all I can get them to eat", while some honestly thought that those "kids foods" were fine for their little ones. Let's look at each of those rationales more closely:

Picky Eaters

I'm not a parent so I certainly can't speak from direct experience, but I have and plenty of parents over the years as clients and some that have come up with really smart strategies for picky eaters. One option is to buy and/or prepare the healthier versions of foods kids may gravitate towards. You can make healthy versions of chicken nuggets with chicken breast, coconut oil and  rolled oats or nut flour; it's just a matter of using some creativity. In fact, creativity is the key to getting kids involved in the process of learning about healthy nutrition. For specific ideas for getting kids excited about healthy food, check out my article on Creative Kids in the Kitchen.

"Kids" Food

I've honestly gotten feedback from parents who've thought that kids are okay eating "kids food" such as mac & cheese, nuggets, fries, cookies, etc. - that somehow their bodies could "handle it." I've even had parents go so far as to indicate that their kid could eat whatever because they were at an acceptable weight. Really?

Eating healthy food does not mean being on a diet. No one, parents included, should be "on a diet." The emphasis and paradigm of thought needs to shift from this diet mentality to one of food for health. I'm sure little Sally or Johnny is not worried about what they'll look like in their bathing suit at the beach next summer, but as parents we should be worried about the actual nutrients, or lack thereof, that goes into his/her body. We have to remember that children are still growing and developing, and how well they develop is based largely on the nutrition they receive on a daily basis. Due to that fact, children's nutrition is more important than the foods that we as adults eat.

By passing the policies that currently drive school nutrition, policymakers are basically saying to our kids, "Enjoy your pre-diabetic-causing, nutrient-deficient good luck concentrating on your studies!" Since the government is dropping the ball BIG time with school lunches, it's up to us as parents and family members to ensure our kids are eating healthy. Start today by encouraging learning and emphasizing the importance of healthy nutrition and food as fuel to your kids and support the initiatives of those working to create change.


SIDEBAR - Anatomy of a school lunch

Let's dissect the school lunch pictured at the beginning of this post:

Cheese & pepperoni pizza

  • white flour
  • salt
  • anti-caking agent
  • tomato sauce
  • high-sodium, nitrate-filled pepperoni (cured pork and/or beef)

"Garden Salad"

  • Iceberg lettuce (highly pesticide treated, void of nutrients)
  • Grated carrots

Cherry Pie

  • white flour
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • cherries
  • sugar
  • salt
  • preservative
  • Red Dye #40

Chocolate Milk

  • skim milk (non-organic, hormones, antibiotic-treated)
  • sugar
  • high fructose corn syrup
  • powdered cocoa


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