A healthy diet can help prevent obesity and other conditions related to weight gain, such as diabetes. Regular and balanced meals can also aid concentration and help the brain develop. So when this Coweta, Oklahoma, mom saw what her son was being fed at school for lunch, she was outraged.
As Crystal Skinner sat down to lunch at school with her third-grade son, she was in for a big surprise. As she glanced over to a classmate’s plate, in fact, Skinner was left speechless by its contents. The meal was supplied by the school, and when she saw it she was incensed.
Contained within the child’s lunch plate was nothing more than some raisins, a couple of carrots, a yogurt and a bag of Cheez-Its. What Skinner could see, then, was a plate that did not appear to be brimming with nutrients. After all, some carrots and raisins on their own just didn’t cut it.
In fact, as she later told KJRH’s 2 Works For You, Skinner’s initial reaction was, “Where’s the rest of your food?” Where, indeed. And after hearing what her son said next, this mom decided that she needed to do something.
When Skinner asked her son what was going on, his answer left her feeling even more outraged. He explained that what his friend had for lunch was called the “cold plate.” Its contents were typical of what the school served for that type of lunch. What’s more, he’d even have one himself maybe three times each week.
“This is not OK,” Skinner told 2 Works For You. “How are kids supposed to be doing good in school, when this is all they’re getting for lunch?” As a mom, she understands the importance of kids eating a balanced and healthy diet. And she knew in that moment that she wasn’t looking at one.
Skinner was so appalled by what she saw, in fact, that she took a picture of the offending lunch plate. And she started to do some research. Surely it couldn’t be acceptable for schools to be serving this meal – for want of a better description – to their kids.
The United States Department of Agriculture claims that it is committed to helping “raise a healthier generation of children.” According to its website, standards in the meals that pupils are served should align with “the latest nutrition standards and the real world circumstances of America’s schools.”
The department published a ruling on nutrition standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs in January 2012. And according to the paper, the majority of schools were required to make more fruit, vegetable and wholegrain options available to students.
The ruling also laid out guidelines for milk, in that fat-free and low-fat options should be made available. In addition, schools were required to provide food with lower levels of sodium, and both saturated and trans fats. This was so that the meals on offer would satisfy students’ nutritional requirements without exceeding recommended calorie intakes.
Speaking about the directive, Vickie Middleton, who works as director of nutrition for Coweta Public Schools, told 2 Works For You, “New FDA guidelines say we are to offer a half a cup of fruit, half a cup of vegetables, half a cup of grain, a whole cup of meat and a cup of milk or juice.”
As Middleton relayed the situation, students could make a selection of three out of five choices on offer. Their options could be, for example, juice, milk and a fruit. The lunch would then include three of the components required for the meal to be classified for reimbursement.
Nevertheless, that’s not how her son’s lunch plate appeared to Skinner. Where was the fruit? Where was the milk? Where was the juice? There didn’t appear to be any significant nutritional value to the so-called meal. So, her picture of it was subsequently sent off to an expert for advice.
Dr. Jennifer Jackson is a registered dietician for Keystone Nutrition and is based in Lafayette, Louisiana. She works with clients to create nutritional plans that comply with official guidelines, and also suit the lifestyles of each individual client’s needs.
When Dr. Jackson saw the picture of the meal, she had the following to say to 2 Works for You: “Cheez-Its is not an acceptable wholegrain component, since the ingredient is wheat flour and not whole grain.” She did, however, concur that the yogurt is an acceptable protein replacement for meat.
And then there was the matter of the raisins. The lunch plate contains a box of raisins, which is the equivalent to one ounce. In order to meet the half-cup of fruit that schools are required to provide, however, four boxes of raisins would need to be supplied.
So by that measure, the lunch plate was clearly lacking in nutritional value. But on the surface at least, the plate met the criteria required of the school. Regardless of whether the food is highly nutritious, kids do get their grain, fruit and vegetable.
Coweta Public School is adamant that the lunches they provide to their students meet the official FDA regulations. It’s a claim that Skinner doesn’t dispute. She does, however, feel that more care and attention should be given to serve more nutritious meals to the kids.
“I just don’t think they are putting enough time and effort into what they’re actually serving the kids,” Skinner told 2 Works For You. “It’s like they’re just trying to follow the guidelines and just throwing stuff in there, not concerned about what the kids really want to eat or whether they will eat it or not.”
“I was unaware that this was going on at the school,” Skinner continued. “That’s what hurt me. If I knew, I would’ve been sending a lunch to school with him every day, instead of saying the school is going to feed you right for lunch. After seeing that, my heart hurt.”