When it comes to school lunches, America is the third world

Brazil’s presidency appears likely to be headed for a runoff. But this NPR story has me wondering why a country that many Americans consider “third world” can do so much more in the world of school lunches than we can.

When I first heard that kids got rice and beans every day, I thought “That’s progress right there.” Because from a nutritional standpoint, rice and beans would be preferable to most U.S. school lunches, which are now being seriously discussed as contributors to obesity, or at the very least as a failure when it comes to countering it. Not surprisingly, when you look at them.

Yet according to the NPR piece, Brazil has mandated that 30 percent of the food for school lunches be purchased from local farmers, which has not only help stablize the farmers’ income but improve the kids’ diets. Now the rice and beans are augmented by fresh vegetables and local meat. Are you telling me we can’t manage to do this here? It’s a matter of politics and will.

Posted in Food Politics

11 Comments

  1. Anonymous said...

    Please, let’s not wait for the American government to change our school lunch program. We’ll be dead before real change comes.My advice: "Pack it."Yes, I understand that millions of kids are on government assisted school lunch program.Until real change comes (I’m not holding my breath), pack it.Ken Leebowhttp://www.HighSatiety.net

  2. SchoolLunch said...

    Schools nationwide have made tremendous progress in improving school meals. A recent survey found that school meals are including more whole grains, vegetarian options and fresh produce, and that schools are reducing the sodium and added sugar in the foods they serve. Many schools are also finding new ways to get kids excited about healthy eating through student taste tests, recipe and art contests, ethnic menu choices, school gardens or farm to school programs. Check out http://www.TrayTalk.org to read recent school meal success stories. School Nutrition Association President Nancy Rice, M.Ed., RD, LD, SNS

  3. Anonymous said...

    Let’s face it Mark. School lunch is only a symptom of what’s happened in this country. The mega-food conglomerates are given free reign by the Congress they purchased out right. They create the school lunch requirements. And we let them. If we really want change, we have to support the Fair Elections Now Act. But most people have never even heard of it.

  4. Anonymous said...

    Dear Ms. Rice,You must be going into different schools than I have visited. I would enjoy touring some of the schools that you mention.I look forward to hearing from you – ken@feedyourheaddiet.comI would also enjoy having you attend one of my presentations about the American food system. My metaphor for proper eating is the Food House. I have found that people can relate to a house much better than a pyramid.Kindest regards,Ken Leebow

  5. Anonymous said...

    My 5-year-old son just started eating school lunches in Italy. You WOULD NOT BELIEVE what they serve on the menu’! They have a first course, second course and a piece of fruit or dessert! I’ll have to get my hands on a copy of the monthly menu it is very well thought out with a different grain each day (pasta, rice, gnocchi, polenta, ect.) and different proteins (meat, fish, eggs, beans etc.).Having gone to school in 1980′s and early 90′s America (California) from 5th grade through High School and having to suffer through school lunches I definitely agree with the title of Bittman’s post!Ciao!Lhttp://www.hippressurecooking.com/making pressure cooking hip again, one recipe at a time!

  6. Anonymous said...

    A note from a Brazilian: Yes, many poor kids at public schools, child care centers and philanthropic institutions do get rice + beans + animal meat + vegetable + fruit every day. Also, the weight or amount of each food is determined by nutritionists and is generally considered well balanced. On the other hand, middle/upper class kids at private schools get lunch money from their busy parents and go to McD’s or its local equivalents and their snacks are mostly American brands produced here. As our economy grows, so does the number of kids going to private schools and teen obesity has been growing dramatically in recent years.When my two kids were at high school age, my wife and I applied the method so wisely described by Mr. Ken Leebow as "Pack It" to ensure the right amounts of carb + protein + vitamins + minerals. Today, they are not overweight and look for healthy foods on their own (BTW, they also love the meals I prepare after watching The Minimalist and YouTube chefs). I’m sure the School Nutrition Assoc. is doing its best, but if I still lived in the US and had young kids, I would definitely pack it…

  7. SourceLiving said...

    I’m a school garden coordinator working in public schools with the non-profit Grow Pittsburgh. I joined the movement because of my passionate desire to change our atrocious school food system, which first got my attention via a senior year research project on federal policies around local school foods.Check out my latest blog post – "Have You Ever Heard of ‘Ground Cherries’ ?"- for more about schools food issues and solutions. http://bit.ly/aor8l3My blog: http://www.sourceliving.tumblr.com

  8. Anonymous said...

    I volunteer at a summer preschool in Tuscany and yes, the lunches there are also as described above. They are not made in a kitchen in the building, but arrive in a van, deep alumnium pans covered with aluminum (sorry, planet) contained in styrofoam chests (which are used over and over). My point being that some little Nona is not sweating over a hot stove: even a mass-market system can write weekly menus with nutritional balance (typical meal: pasta al pomodoro, roasted chicken (we cut it up for the tiniest kids), plums), and deliver taste that can please kids who I know also eat a lot of junk (this is reality, after all). What is so hard about that?

  9. Anonymous said...

    I wanted to share with you a copy of Italy’s lunch program for my son. His school has a built-in kitchen but, as Judy noted, some schools have to have the food shipped-in. Take a look at a copy of this year’s lunch menu, with one translated week:http://lapsushumanus.blogspot.com/2010/10/italys-lunch-program-wow.htmlIf there is continuing interest in this topic and it would do some good, I would be glad to translate the whole menu or even ask the school to let me tour and photograph the kitchen and my own child eating his lunch (lots of privacy issues involved in getting a shot of the whole room).

  10. Anonymous said...

    P.S. Bittiman, you are a talented writer… the title of this post defines the true problem succinctly with just the right amount of shock!

  11. luagostinho said...

    And this isn’t new here in Brazil. I’m 36 and I’ve studied at public schools all my life. I remember having rice and beans for lunch at school almost everyday.

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