by Amanda Goetz
My kids drink chocolate milk. They eat hot dogs, Chicken McNuggets, chips, Oreos, ice cream and gummie bears. Do I let them have these things all the time? Hell to the NO.
I watched the season premiere of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution this week as a lot of other parents probably did. I was shocked and horrified to see what the powers that be in the state of California were trying to pass off as food. Now, I’m Canadian (a Canuck if you will) so I really can’t speak first hand to what the state of affairs is really like down there, but from what I’ve seen on the show (and there aren’t many other shows/news organizations shedding light on the issue) the situation has reached “OMFG” status. I went to the USDA website and it says this:
The National School Lunch Program (NSLP) is a federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions. It provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.
Nutritionally balanced? *cocking an eyebrow* Really? Sticky buns for breakfast (that are microwaved in plastic!), fries and corndogs for lunch, few if any veggies… someone needs a refresher course on what the words “nutritionally balanced” mean.
While I was watching I was on twitter and mentioned that the situation was disgusting. Most people that responded to me were in total agreement, but there was one mother who responded with some comments that shocked me. She said that the program is severely underfunded and that a lot of kids count on the program as their only meal of the day. She went on to say that the program was in jeopardy of being shut down so a foreign (not sure what that has to do with anything) chef shouldn’t be rocking the boat in case it brings the downfall of the lunch program. She also said that something is better than nothing and if she could afford to buy organic she would, but she can’t so the “crap” will have to do.
There are several points I want to address there. I agree, the program is RIDICULOUSLY underfunded. I read that the allotment is $1 per day, per child. The economic collapse brought the poverty level in the U.S. up significantly and I have no doubt that there are a lot of children who depend on that one or two meals a day at school to survive. But if that’s the case, shouldn’t parents be fighting for the food to be better, for their children to have access to food that’s not deep-fried, microwaved and basically pure sugar?
The “something is better than nothing” comment really irks me. The food these kids are being fed can lead to diabetes, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and heart disease, not to mention it sets them up to develop an addiction to high-fat, high-sugar foods that most will not be able to break in adulthood. Giving them these foods might solve the immediate hunger issue in the moment, but it leads to so many other problems (I wonder how many kids are making it through the day awake and focused in class after their sugar crash?), there has to be a better way to address this problem. Complacency has never brought about change.
As I said, my kids eat “junk”, and I’m okay with it. There’s nothing wrong with treats, I grew up with candy and chocolate milk (did you know that chocolate milk made with cocoa or mixes that contain cocoa help to rebuild muscle after strenuous physical activity better than any other fluid? Google “chocolate milk after workout” for several case studies) and cupcakes. But I was also given a variety of fruits and vegetables and I do the same with my kids. The idea that you have to buy organic or “there’s just no point” is ridiculous. For some produce organic is “better” (but not necessary if money is an issue), like soft fleshed items (strawberries, peaches, grapes), but a good scrubbing in a 3-1 water/vinegar solution can take care of most of the chemical and wax residue on things like apples, pears, celery, carrots and other harder produce or those with a flesh you eat. I peel most of my kids’ fruits and veggies as they’re still young and the peels can be hard to chew and digest, but if you’re peeling, organic really isn’t necessary.
My family’s favourite veggie side-dish is a plate of raw vegetables in the middle of the dinner table. Baby carrots, cucumber, sugar-snap peas, cherry tomatoes, sliced peppers and raw red cabbage are some favourites. I have never offered dip with them and so they don’t know what they’re missing and happily eat the veggies all on their own. Last night we barbequed burgers for my husband and I, and chicken breasts for the girls and I made homemade french fries (cause you have to have fries with burgers!) and had this plate of veggies with it.
My kids ate their chicken, that wasn’t breaded, deep-fried or drowning in ketchup and a handful of french fries and they ate a ton of veggies! The plate of crudité (fancy word for raw veggies) cost me about $2.12 which works out to 53¢ per person. A bag of frozen mixed veggies will run you around $2 too and they have anywhere from 7-10 servings in a bag. For dessert they each had a banana (they eat a ridiculous amount of bananas!) which were 33¢ each.
Here are some money-saving tips for buying healthier foods:
* Buy in season produce. If something isn’t in season buy frozen, it’ll be cheaper than buying out of season fresh, and frozen fruit and veggies are just as nutritious as fresh.
* Shop with coupons. A little bit of effort can save you a lot of money. Don’t think it’s worth the time? Watch Extreme Couponing on TLC or read my friend Deanna’s blog Money Saving Canadian Mom.
* Buy in bulk. When shopping look at the price per/unit cost, the rule usually is the larger the package size, the cheaper it is per unit (serving).
* Stock up when items are on sale. Grocery stores cycle sales, baking supplies go on sale around holidays, condiments in the summer, things like granola bars, fruit cups and cereals at the beginning of the school year.
* Reduce the amount of food you throw out. Turn over-ripe fruit into desserts, wilted veggies into soups and stews and stale bread into bread crumbs or croutons. Leftovers can be revived as a new meal, leftover meatloaf can be chopped up and seasoned and turned into tacos. Be creative.
* Water down sugar-free juices by 1/3. It’s better for your kids and stretches the juice further.
I hope that Jamie Oliver (and his show’s producer Ryan Seacrest) can influence some powerful people in California to advocate for these kids. I know the problem is more wide-spread than just this one state, and I know that it even exists here in Canada (to some degree), but all it will take is someone to stand up and rally parents and policy makers to do better and that can serve as a model for other cities, states and even countries to take another look at how we’re treating our children’s health and well-being and what we’re feeding them. Our children deserve better. Speak up.
Amanda Goetz is a WAHM to 3 kids under the age of 5. Her love of cooking was fostered when she was a preschooler helping her grandma in the kitchen. After a year long stint as a sous chef, she left the industry to continue cooking as a hobby before the stress and politics of a professional kitchen killed her love of cooking. Now she creates delicious dinners and delectable desserts for her family and friends and blogs about it at The Best Mom on the Block.