Cafeteria Food Fight

Today, the Chicago Tribune reported that one local school, Chicago’s Little Village Academy, is forcing children to eat at their cafeteria or go hungry. The school has mandated that unless a child has a medical excuse such as an allergy, they are not allowed to bring a packed lunch from home. According to school Principal Elsa Carmona, her intention is to protect students from their own unhealthful food choices.

How, praytell, is forcing young children to choose between hunger and meager, unappetizing slop “protecting students”? And how is it helping them to make healthful choices on their own?

My children don’t eat school cafeteria food, mainly because they wouldn’t choose to eat it at all. This week, their school menu touts the following unhealthful things: breaded chicken (fried in oil of course), cookies, cheeseburger and potato smiles (again with the oil!), fruit cup (lots of sugar in that!), brownies, tamale pocket, cheese its, cheese pizza and chips. Given their own choice, my kids choose things like turkey sandwiches, bananas, apples, peanut butter sandwiches, homemade soups and juice. As a parent, these are choices that I reinforce. It’s not the purview of the school to decide what my child eats. It is their job to teach them math, science, reading, critical thinking, etc. I certainly would take it as an affront if I was told that I could no longer send whole wheat turkey sandwiches, bananas, crackers and juice to school with my children because the school (and government) knew better what to feed them.

The other thing that I find most horrifying about this story is that the ban on homemade lunches puts money directly into the pockets of the school district’s food provider and that the government pays the district for each free or reduced price lunch that is served. So in effect, the taxpayer is footing the bill for school lunches that are often thrown away uneaten. What a waste of money, time and food resources!

The article also points out that the overall nutritional quality of the meals is poor (albeit improved from last year, yay.) and that there has been a drop-off in the number of students participating in meals. Now, taking into account that this school and many other districts have breakfast programs, that means that many of the children that qualify for free or discounted breakfast and lunches aren’t eating anything all day long until they get home after school. How does Principal Carmona expect students at the school to be able to concentrate and learn over the distraction of their empty bellies?! For shame!

Foodie Rant: McDonald’s Happy Meal Kerfluffle

Now, I don’t consider the ‘food’ at fast food restaurant McDonald’s particularly tasty (or edible for that matter) however I am slightly amused and concerned about their presence in the news lately as San Francisco has tried to regulate their Happy Meals and today’s news that a Sacramento woman is actually -suing- them over it.

Here’s a heads up in case you missed it. Fast food isn’t good for you.

Let me repeat that… FAST FOOD ISN’T GOOD FOR YOU.

It doesn’t matter if it comes with a toy or overprocessed apple slices (that take -weeks- to brown in their little baggie, by the way), the food is high in sodium, high in fat and low in nutritional value. This goes for the regular adult portions of things as well as the Happy Meals. For those of you that are now pointing to the salad options in protest, sure…they have salads, but be forewarned…just because it’s called a “salad” doesn’t mean it’s healthy either. Their Southwest Salad with Crispy Chicken has 430 calories, 42% of which are from fat, and 920mg of sodium. And that’s before you even add a drop of dressing.

Now, the lawsuit is basically stipulating that McDonald’s is engaging in “unfair, deceptive and illegal” marketing practices according to Michael Jacobson, executive director of CSPI, the Center for Science in the Public Interest. I’m going to leave whether or not it’s legal to the lawyers and courts, but last I checked, we had a free market society, so I don’t find it “unfair” that McDonald’s has figured out a way to market their products more successfully than their competitors in the fast food space OR that they’ve essentially outperformed the loyalty to the family dinner table. You want your kids to eat better? Make them dinner more regularly at home and have them -help- you. As for “deceptive”, nope…not buying it. As long as I can remember, McDonald’s has offered a toy or a collectible in their Happy Meals. I distinctly remember collecting a set of Muppet Movie drinking glasses as a child and treasuring them for years until they eventually all broke. Deceptive would be saying that the meals come with a toy and then not providing one or something like that. They are upfront about exactly what is in the meal and what the toys are. Not “deceptive.”

The main problem I see here is not with McDonald’s food (though I completely avoid it now myself) or with their marketing practices in general or specifically in regard to Happy Meals. The problem is with the mother.

According to the article on CNN, she says she is suing because “We have to say no to our kids so many times and McDonald’s makes that so much harder to do. I object to the fact that McDonald’s is getting into my kids’ heads without my permission and actually changing what my kids want to eat.”

Sorry honey…it isn’t McDonald’s fault that you are unable or incapable of saying no to your children.

You are.

As parents, my husband and I determine what our three children watch on tv, their commercial exposure, as well as where and what they eat. It is my responsibility. Not the government and certainly not some fast food restaurant.

Find out the Nutritional Value of your favorite McDonald’s Meal

No muffins for you! A late night food rant. . .

Ok, so this will be a bit of a rant, but hey…I’m feeling a bit robbed here.

Tonight, I needed to make a relatively quick dinner. It was late, we still had work to do and according to my five year old son, everyone was “Staaaarving.” So quick it was. I pulled out a bag of frozen chicken breasts, a few zucchini and yellow squash from my mother-in-law’s burgeoning garden (thanks Corene!) and then thought about what else to make to go with it. I wasn’t in a cous-cous mood, and as I’ve previously noted, my success with rice is less than stellar, and we didn’t have a loaf of french bread around, so I started hunting through the cupboards. I found a box of Krusteaz Wild Blueberry Muffin Mix. Bingo.

So, I get everything out and my eight year old daughter is helping. We’re mixing it up and I teach her how to fold in the blueberries…all that good teach-your-kids-how-to-cook kinda stuff. She gets out the muffin pans while I tend to the rest of dinner and suddenly she pipes up.

“Mom? How come the box only makes 10 muffins when the pan has 12 holes?”

I, in my common sense stupidity answer “No honey, the box makes 12. Look again.”

She responds “No…it says 10 on the back and the side and even the little picture has only 10 muffins and two blank holes.” (Bless her heart for looking at the nutritional panel!)

I take the box and what do you know, but it only makes 10 MUFFINS!? When the heck did they change that! It’s like buying a package of 10 hot dog buns and only 8 hot dogs. I have no idea when they started short changing the box and charging me MORE for it, but I’m feeling a little more than put out here. Total highway robbery.

So I guess the lesson is threefold:

• Read packaging regularly, even if it’s a product you regularly buy.

• Stop buying crappy baking mixes and just do it yourself. It’s cheaper and better for you.

• Give more credit to your kids. They’re pretty darn observant.