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How safe is your kid's school lunch?

It’s back to school time again and do you know what your kid is eating? Chances are if she is eating the school lunch, you don’t. Behind the heading of “hamburger with fries,” “pizza with vegetables,” is a dirty little secret that might be harming your child.  (Yes, this is a re-post, BUT school lunches are one of the top green issues facing parents and children when going back to school.)

Meat and dairy are the staples of the school lunch program. The USDA, which is on record as saying that rGBH milk is safe and cloned meats are fine, is responsible for the school lunch program. They in effect buy up foods that consumer don’t want and serve it to school kids in their lunches. The farm bill that was passed last May directs the USDA to buy irradiated beef for the federal school lunch program. Almost 1/3 of the recently recalled meat went to schools and public nutrition programs.

Reports on french fries and ketchup counting as the only vegetable to go along with burgers or pizza are now old news. Also old, but still sadly relevant news, are the frightening statistics on childhood obesity. (According to the CDC’s 2006 figures, 30.7% of white American kids are overweight or obese, 34.9% of black children and 38% of Mexican American children. Although, slightly more hopeful for urban parents: 16.5% of rural kids are obese compared with 14.4% of urban kids.)

Most schools provide few options for kids that might be sensitive to, say, cow’s milk. (According to the American Academy of Family Physicians’ 2002 report on lactose intolerance, up to 80% of blacks and Hispanics are lactose intolerant). Similarly, there are few options for parents that want kids to avoid the poor quality meat for either ethical or health reasons. The way that school lunches works is that the USDA subsidizes certain foods and those are what are available to schools. Though vegetarian options are available by request, they usually have to be specially ordered ahead of time and sometimes are a very poor option nutritionally.

“Children are developing organs to last a lifetime. Due to their smaller size, fast-growing speedy metabolisms, and less varied diets, infants and children are more vulnerable to health and developmental damage,” says Dr. Greene. Some of the most important foods to get organic for your children are: meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, rice, corn, apples, apricots, bell peppers, celery, cherries, cucumbers, grapes, green beans, nectarines, peaches, pears, potatoes, raisins, red raspberries, spinach, strawberries, soybeans.

The typical student in the Chicago Public Schools is just being served the standard questionably healthy school lunch, there are many better options available in Chicago.

At Louisa May Alcott Elementary organic lunch options are readily available thanks to the incredible work of the Organic School Project. They also provide an organic after-school snack at Lowell Elementary and garden-based education at Drummond Elementary Magnet and Inter-American Elementary Magnet.

If your child goes to a school other than those mentioned above, don’t worry, there are still healthy options available. Thanks to a growing number of organizations that provide healthy, usually organic, foods that can be delivered directly to you or the school.

The Gourmet Gorilla does seasonally appropriate produce, free-range meats, and has a commitment to being a zero waste facility using composting, recycling, and environmentally-responsible vehicles. They provide meals both on a whole-sale basis (the whole school signs up) or on a retail basis (deliver an organic meal just to your child). There prices start at less than $3.00 per kid if a whole school signs up. The caveat is there needs to be a minimum number of other kids ordering in the same school to do the retail option.

The Green Bag Lunch will deliver an organic, healthy, kid-friendly option directly to your child’s school for just $5.00 (that includes the lunch and the delivery). Even better, it’s all waste-free. As above, for the retail option there also needs to be a minimum number of other kids ordering in the same school.

Max’s Organic Planet will deliver a lunch for you to your office or a whole day’s worth of meals to your home. If you get your child’s school to sign up they will provide healthy, organic meals right at your school.

There are also many private and charter schools that are restructuring their food offerings to be healthier and prioritize organic. The Betty Shabazz International Charter School/Barbara Sizemore Academy won recognition for their healthier offerings.


Healthy Schools Campaign
Kids Organics
Healthy School Lunches

WANT TO DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT? In the U.S, you can sign a petition to help get REAL FOOD into schools. Or, even attend an EAT-IN.  

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