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School lunch war starts at home

September 21, 2012 - Jodelle Greiner
Well, the backlash has begun. About 70 percent of the 830 students who normally eat lunch at Mukwonago (Wis.) High School boycotted their cafeteria lunch on Monday in protest over the federally-mandated “one-side-fits-all” guidelines, according to an article by the Associated Press on the Star-Tribune’s website.

Predictably, one of the kids protesting was Nick Blohm, a 210-pound linebacker who said the 850-calorie cap wasn’t enough for him and he went to football practice hungry.

That was one of the concerns Christine Purvis, head cook at Blue Earth Area District, had when I interviewed her about the lunch program before school started. (See the Sentinel’s website, “Changes coming for school lunches” Aug. 24.)

But I have another problem with this bruhaha over school lunch. Pam Harris, Mukwonago’s food service supervisor, said in the AP article that what students eat at home is also a big piece of the puzzle.

I couldn’t agree more.

I think it’s commendable that the schools are trying to affect healthy changes in the students’ lives, whether it’s about lunch, snacking or bullying, but ultimately, it’s not the school’s responsibility. (I think it’s wonderful that the schools and concerned citizens have stepped up to make sure that students who do not have food at home due to financial difficulties in the family do get fed breakfast, lunch and food on the weekends, but that’s another issue altogether.) The current crack-down on school lunches holds the schools responsible for what the parents should be teaching their kids.

It’s the schools’ responsibility to make sure the students get a proper education. Teachers are supposed to teach; they should also be re-enforcing the values the kids are supposed to be learning at home: treat each other with respect, don’t take stuff that doesn’t belong to you, etc., and that includes eating proper meals. The problem is when the kids aren’t being taught this stuff at home, it’s doubly difficult for the teachers to make an impression, whether that’s about the importance of education, respecting others or eating properly.

Teachers and lunch ladies can insist the kids eat healthy stuff, but if mom and dad are scarfing down pizza, chips, and pop, that’s the example the kids are going to follow and a lot of this nutritious food is winding up in the trash can and not in the kids’ stomachs. That’s because mom and dad are still more important in the kids’ lives than teachers and lunch room workers, no matter how good their intentions are.

The federal mandates are setting up the schools to fight a war that, in some cases, they can not win.


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