I think about food a lot. It seems like I’m constantly going over grocery lists in my head and thinking about what to prepare for dinner. I have to say it’s a lot of work to feed a family well, both from a time standpoint and from a money standpoint. My family, like so many others, has fallen into the trap of creating hectic lives for ourselves by trying to do so many things. We work long days. Then in the evenings we take classes, drive kids around to their various activities and generally keep ourselves busy. While none of these things are bad, they don’t always leave us with much time to do the things that are required for eating well, like planning meals, shopping, cooking, and my least favorite food related activity, washing dishes.
I know that when my life gets busy I’m less inclined to make a salad to go with dinner and I’m more inclined to reach for things like frozen pizza. After all, frozen pizza is cheap, easy and it doesn’t mess up the kitchen. I joke that it fills all of the food groups (even though I know better) with tomato sauce as the vegetable, white crust as the carbohydrate, and pepperoni and cheese as the protein. If I start doing this too often though, it doesn’t take long for me to start feeling the effects of such a diet. I’ve figured out the correlation between the crappy food that I eat and the crappy way I feel the next day, so that keeps me from going overboard with the junk food.
This week a teacher at one of the local schools posted on his facebook page pictures he’s been taking of junk food. Most of the meat was nearly unidentifiable and it was always served with something starchy, like white bread, mashed potatoes or French fries. I know for a fact that with my metabolism, if I were to eat those meals, or meals like them several times a week I would weigh at least twenty pounds more than I do now. I would also feel like I lived in a constant state of hangover. The “meals” he photographed weren’t from a gas station or from a fast food franchise as it looked like they might have been, but from the public school lunch program.
It seems like the USDA has prioritized convenience over nutrition as a policy. As long as it’s cheap, easy and doesn’t mess up the kitchen, the USDA will approve it and the schools have no choice but to serve it. This may seem a lot like my reaching for the frozen pizzas when I’m pressed for time and money but there is one important difference; I recognize that frozen pizza is junk food, and even though I joke about it meeting the nutritional needs of my family, I know for a fact that it does not. It might taste alright, and it might fill everyone’s bellies, but I know I can’t serve it all the time. Unfortunately the USDA has twisted the rules around and has tried to convince us that they’re meeting the nutritional needs of schoolchildren. They fumble their way around the requirements by saying that French fries and apple juice count as fruits and vegetables. They serve junk food every day of the week, only they call it “well-balanced” and “nutritious.”
Unlike the kids who depend on public school lunches five days a week, I have choices. I don’t have to eat frozen pizza or mystery meat on a daily basis. Most of the time I have the ability to figure out meals that are inexpensive, relatively quick to prepare and healthy for my family; and as a parent it’s my obligation. Come to think of it, I imagine that the folks in charge of making the policies regarding school lunches are pretty smart as well. I know they’re probably busy and feeling over-extended just like the rest of us, but feeding kids real food should be one of their top priorities. It’s what they signed up for. Have they forgotten?