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School Lunch Drama: Free the Pickles!

Changes in the National School Lunch Program mean certain foods aren't on the menu any more, but overall, it's probably a good thing for students.

Have you heard about what is happening in school cafeterias? It’s an outrage! No, kids aren’t using sporks to pierce each other’s eyebrows. It’s much worse … pickles have been eliminated from the lunch menu! 

Students made do without their tater tots, were patient when the fat was sucked out of their milk, but now pickles are outlawed? Well, that’s just scraping the bottom of the barrel and I, for one, …. well, don’t really care. But, the students at Hall High School in West Hartford care.

Hall senior Kendall Teare, the student representative to the West Hartford Board of Education, spoke out at the board's Oct. 2 meeting. “The Student Organization met with the head of Nutritional Services to discuss what, if anything, can be done to rectify this horrible situation,” she said.

You go, girl! Free the pickles!

There is a healthy school lunch initiative sweeping the nation and I do care about that. The goal of the National School Lunch Program is to align school lunches with the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which means adding more fruits and veggies, whole grains, and low fat-milk. It also means reducing saturated and trans fats and sodium (hence, the pickle ban).

Obviously, this is an attempt to break the cycle of high calorie/low nutrition diets plaguing the youth of America. This is not some half-hearted marketing plan for schools to show they care about the well-being of the students. It is the result of an 81-page report from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, which lays out very specific plans to overhaul school breakfast and lunch programs. 

In Connecticut, school districts may apply annually for Healthy Food Certification, which addresses all foods sold to students during school hours, including school cafeterias, vending machines, school stores, and fundraisers.

It does not include food given to students, so parents can still bring in cupcakes for the class for their kids’ birthday, something I banned from my classroom years ago. I guess that makes me a pioneer in the war against childhood obesity.

However, you know those parties where your kid contributes a few bucks and the teacher brings in pizza as a treat? Forget it. If it involves money, it must adhere to the nutritional guidelines. There is also a statement in there requiring that students have a fruit or vegetable with every meal bought. I have a vision of trash cans overflowing with Brussels sprouts and bananas.

Aside from the young lady with a passion for pickles, there has been very little backlash from students. None of my students has mentioned it at all, including my son. One thing I did notice though, when I was reading the report, was that there is very little said about limiting the amount of sugar.

I texted my son during his lunch period today to take a picture of his lunch for research purposes. I got back a picture of a bag of Cinnamon Sugar Pita Chips and two M&M cookies, and a note saying he didn’t have time to eat a hot lunch because he had a meeting with his guidance counselor. He brought the empty bag from the chips home and the ingredients do look much healthier than regular potato chips. The jury is still out on the cookies.   

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