School Lunch Investigation – Part 5

Last Friday I arrived promptly for my interview with Director of Nutrition, Alicia Neal, with your questions and my own. What I learned was extremely discouraging.

We began the conversation with an overview of the current system lunch item procurement. I learned that the North Thurston School District spends about $3 million a year. Of this $430,000 comes from the USDA as part of the commodities program. This money must be used to buy USDA commodities (bread, meat, etc) and processing it. Much of the remainder of the money is tied to their prime vendor, Food Services of America.

A sample of our conversation:
Q: How much money is allocated per student for meals?
A: $1.30 ($0.20 for milk, $0.65 for entree, the rest for fruits and vegetables)

Q: Is local produce used (as with Olympia School District)?
A: some, we are considerably larger than Olympia and could not get reliable quanitities. To give you an idea, we order 120 cases of romaine. Food Services of America uses quite a bit of local produce (they also use Pacific Coast Fruit).

Q:The meals are besed on USDA guidelines. Does this include sugar content (the chocolate milk served at breakfast and lunch has 22g of sugar)?
A: It is factored into the calories; that limits the sugar that is in the foods.

The ingredients in a slice of cheese toast

I inquired further into how changes might be made and how I could support this process. I was repeatedly told that 1) it was a funding issues, and 2) Ms. Neal had no interest in looking into healthier alternatives. She went so far as to tell me there is, “nothing I serve to these children that I wouldn’t serve to my own children.” Sadly, I do not find this comforting.

When I inquired as to whether more education was needed to encourage the kids to eat the fruits and vegetables that were available, I was told in several ways that my volunteer efforts were not wanted.

Ms. Neal seems to be content with the status quo despite the overwhelming evidence that children are becoming more ill every year. The one bright spot is that the district will no op out of the Healthy Lunch Program with the loophole that Congress has just created. Small steps.

I will continue to look for ways to improve nutrition in this an other arenas. I am looking for more information on what steps to take next. Some of my recent research has been with:

  • Pt. Defiance Elementary School in Tacoma – school garden program
  • Jamie Oliver Food Revolution
  • Moms Across America
  • Center for Science for Public Interest

For the moment, I am going to embrace the beginning of summer with my children and make happy, healthy memories.


School Lunch Investigation – Part 4

Today both of my kids enjoyed the BBQ at the elementary school. This was a special treat as I had not allowed my son to buy lunch this year and my daughter was just happy to go to school with her big brother. She now has a rash above her lip and the oldest had a complete meltdown (intense anger followed by tears) the moment he got home from school.

I have no way of knowing which part of the menu the kids reacted to, but the reactions were pronounced.

While I did not get the ingredient list of the hot dogs my kids ate today, I did get the hamburgers that were also served as well as the ketchup they both asked for:

beef patties – Ingredient Statement: Ground Beef (Not More Than 30% Fat), Water, Textured Vegetable Protein Product (Soy Protein Concentrate, Caramel Color, Zinc Oxide, Niacinamide, Ferrous Sulfate, Copper Gluconate, Vitamin A Palmitate, Calcium Pantothenate, Thiamine Mononitrate (B-1), Pyridoxine Hydrochloride (B-6), Riboflavin (B-2), And Cyanocobalamin (B-12)), Seasoning (Hydrolyzed Corn Protein, Dextrose, Salt, Onion Powder, Spices), Sodium Tripolyphosphates. Contains: Soy

Ketchup – tomato concentrate (water and tomateo paste), high fructose corn syrup, corn syrup, vinegar, salt onion powder, spice, natural flavors

The rest of my children’s meal included a chocolate cookie, watermelon, hot dog bun, beans and mustard.

An end-of-year barbecue should not have the ability to drastically change a child’s behavior or to cause a skin irritation. Things must change for the safety of our children.

School Lunch Investigation – Part 3

While working on the last post I recieved the following email from the vice president of Integrated Food Service:

Hello Jennifer,
I understand that you are interested in the ingredients and nutritional information of our Grilled Cheese items that we sell to schools. I read your blog and applaud your interest in School nutrition. I have been in this industry for over 30 years and believe me, it is a completely different business from when I started. However a drastic change was in order. I would be interested in speaking to you directly vs. via email so if you’d like, please forward me a contact number and I will call you as soon as I have a chance.
Jon R. Sugimoto, Vice President, Integrated Food Service
I had contacted the company to ask for the ingredients in the grilled cheese sandwiches. As I had only two hours my notes from the nutrition binder at the school district were no complete. I do know that these sandwiches contain 655.24mg sodium and 6.91g sugar.
I replied with my contact information. I will keep you updated on progress of this conversation.

Should We Worry About School Lunches?

In the past few weeks I have sent emails to our local school district asking for an ingredient list in the school lunches. I have suspected that the lunches are full of processed food-like substances rather than real ingredients as there is no kitchen or cafeteria at my son’s school.

This afternoon I finally received an response to my inquiry to the North Thurston School District. This is what it said:

Hi Jennifer,
We use many different products in our school meal program, and in those products are probably thousands of ingredients.  We keep product specification on all items serve in schools and you are welcome to come to our office (located on the same campus as Lakes Elementary) and review them if you’d like.  Please let us know and we’d be happy to set up an appointment for you to view them.
Alicia Neal, RD
Director of Food and Nutrition Services

North Thurston Public Schools

You can bet that I am going to make and appointment to further investigate this issue. Our children’s health is more than at risk. If kids are not given healthy lunches their health with most definitely suffer, as will their I.Q. and their ability to concentrate.

Those who have seen the new movie, “Fed Up,” may not be surprised by this email. If you haven’t seen the movie yet I highly recommend it. In the meantime here are a few of the relevant points from the film:

  • there are 600,000 food items in America, 80% of them have added sugar
  • we are raising the first generation expected to live shorter lives than their parents
  • by 2015 one out of every three Americans will have diabetes
  • tomato paste is a vegetable according to those who control school lunch quality