Cap Times reporter Mary Ellen Gabriel does an extraordinarily thorough examination today of both the school lunch program and the efforts of University of Wisconsin-affiliated REAP program (Research, Education, Action and Policy on Food) to implement some changes in how we feed our children. It’s an issue I’ve had some involvement with for a number of years, including my current work with the Healthy Classrooms Foundation (more on this in a later post).
The piece, in part, examines the questions related to whether MMSD’s school lunch program is unhealthy for kids.
It depends who you ask. On one side is a well-trained food service department that manages to feed 19,000 kids under a bevy of guidelines on a slim budget. On the other is a growing number of parents and community advocates armed with research about the shortcomings of mass-produced food and race-to-the-finish mealtimes.
For critics there are a number of concerns.
A lack of fresh fruits and vegetables, high fat and salt content in items perceived as “processed” or “junk food,” little nutritional information on the Web site, too much plastic, too much waste and too little time to eat.
The piece is well worth a read in order to understand the challenges in trying to produce thousands of healthy and nutritious meals a day to students, more than half of whom qualify for free and reduced-price lunches, and to do it all with a shrinking budget. Groups have tried to step in and offer closer farmer to school efforts, a movement now in 22 states – but with some failures as well as successes. This is a noble project, still in its infancy in many ways, one that is trying to bring change to an important but constrained large institution. Let’s wish them well.