Money matters with school lunch menus is the fourth article in our series comparing the French to American school lunch program. Interested in learning more about school lunch series? You can read articles one, two and three here: Choices, Vegetarianism, Eating Local. If you want more information go to the category on ‘School Lunch’ on the top of this page and click there for lots more articles!
How some American school lunch programs sell their nutritional soul for money
Is it ironic? The United States federally run school lunch program doesn’t have a national effort nor legislation to prohibit:
- vending machines selling soda, candy and unhealthy foods in schools
- fast food companies like Pizza Hut and Dominos putting their food on school lunch menus
- the influence of food companies who put their business interests over children’s nutritional goals
Compare this to France’s locally run school lunch program; a system funded by local level municipalities with federal guidelines stating:
- no vending machines allowed on school property
- no fast food or junk food sold on school property or on the school lunch menus
- a dish cannot be served more than once every two months
Why these big differences? You know what it all comes down to: money matters. Especially where it hits the pockets most-with the interests of the food industry and food service companies. How else could one explain the logic of a system that pushes through big nutritional reforms yet still allows the food business to have such an influence on what lands on the plates of our children’s school dishes? A system where kids do not get full nutritional benefits because food companies pressure the US Congress to pass nutritional reforms based on the interests of their own business and not that of real nutritional science.
Let me give you an example. After the USDA first proposed the new nutritional guidelines for school lunch, Congress prohibited USDA from limiting French fries and other potato products and permitted school lunchrooms to continue counting tomato sauce on pizza as a vegetable. (C’mon, really?) The recent school lunch nutritional outcomes finally compromised because the food industry lobbies could see the economic writing on the wall. Here is a full story on this, Food companies fight to keep potatoes on school lunch menus in place of more fruits and vegetables.
Money matters for the food industry. We can see their influence on too many school lunch menus. Who loses in all this?
Our kids and their long-term health
But at least in America, kids have that freedom to bring packed school lunches to school (which doesn’t exist in France, read the article on Choices for more information.) That freedom that exists if a family has the means to pack a healthy lunch. For the kids that depend on reduced or free school lunch meals (and there are more and more of them) what kind of example are we giving our children about what is a healthy lunch? Is it an example of good health and nutrition when we allow fast food and pizza companies like Dominos Pizza to offer our children their meals? (see this article here for more information: Dominos Pizza on School Lunch menu.)
You can argue that kids in America have a choice on the main meal, but if you put a slice of Dominos pizza or tossed salad with tuna in front of them, what do you think a typical child what pick? Dominos might be one food company in America promoting their ‘healthy’ options, but in reality, their healthy options are still less healthy than a real cooked school lunch meal. Dominos Pizza is not the only food company connected to school lunch menus. What about Rosati’s Italian Ice?
When I first starting looking at French and American school lunch menus I focused on my hometown of Toms River, NJ. What I saw shocked me: every Friday, kids in Toms River had with the same menu choice: Dominos Pizza and Rosati’s Ice or Tuna Topped Tossed Salad with Peppers with Ranch Dip. What would your child choose?
Despite the new federal guidelines, there is still Dominos pizza on the menu in Toms River, NJ, every Friday. Rosati’s Ice is gone, seems as if it melted off the Toms River school lunch menu.
Here are menus from Toms River, New Jersey and Pau, France from November 2010 and 2102.
Toms River, New Jersey, November 2010
Choice of 1 main dish, 2 sides and served with a half pint of milk
Domino’s Pizza or Tossed Salad with Tuna
Peppers with Ranch Dip
Rosati Italian Ice
Pau, France November 2010
Wheat Grain Salad
Fish Gratin and Vichy Carrots (carrots cooked in mineral water and glazed with butter)
Served with water to drink and slices of baguette
Toms River, New Jersey November 2012
Domino’s Pizza OR Grilled Cheese Sandwich
Baked Apples w/Cinnamon
Served with low fat/ skim milk
Pau, France November 2012
Served with water and slices of baguette
In comparing the two lunches, both from 2010 to 2012 you can see the food industry on the Toms River menus. Dominos Pizza, Rosati’s Ice, ranch dressing. And on the other side of the Atlantic is Pau, serving fish (always on Friday), the local basque cake, Vichy carrots. Would your child eat fish gratin? (a type of fish casserole, creamy and served hot out of the oven). Unfortunately in France, if you child doesn’t like the menu choice of the day they must either eat it or go hungry.
No system is perfect, but if I were a parent in the Toms River school system, I would voice my opinion on the Dominos Pizza issue. I am not against this pizza but why not offer this dish bimonthly instead of weekly? What are your thoughts? Please let me know in the ‘leave a reply’ area.
For more information on school lunch in France, check out Karen Billon’s website that shows school lunch menus from all around France.
Interested in following the latest on nutrition news from around Europe, France and the United States? Why not subscribe to BrightonYourHealth Newsletter? You can do so here and receive your free E-report (that is generating a lot of positive feedback!) on good health from an international perspective.
Bon Appetit, Mary