Thinking outside the lunch box

Are school lunches making our kids obese? I don’t know a lot about school lunches because I carried my lunch to school for 12 years – so did almost every kid in my class. And the lunch I brought wasn’t very healthy. For years, I made cream-cheese-and-olive sandwiches for myself. Then I graduated to peanut butter and jelly, then baloney and cheese.

Now that most kids get their lunch at the school cafeteria, I hear the school lunches are killing them. They’re making them fat and giving them diabetes. Doctors say 10-year-olds have high cholesterol because the school lunch menu is heavy on things like pizza and cheeseburgers, tacos and fried chicken, which is pretty much the same kind of food choices you pass while driving your kids to school. It’s not as if they are suddenly eating lentils and Brussels sprouts after they leave school.

“Oh, mom, let’s stop at the International House of Soy and Grass-fed, Free-range, Cage-free Cattle.”

“Dad, can we have a McBean sprout sandwich on whole wheat bread in the doctor-recommended portion size? Can we? Can we?”

“No, we had that last week. Let’s all go get some KBSC, Kentucky Baked Skinless Chicken. They make sure their portions are no bigger than a deck of cards and I love their fresh greens with yogurt dressing.”

“Oh, look – there’s a Broccoli Hut. They make it ten different ways. And you can get baked potatoes without any butter or sour cream!

Have you ever seen an ad for a tomato on TV? An apple or a carrot? Lettuce? Cabbage? Chiquita used to advertise bananas. Is anything else in the grocery store’s produce department pushed as much as sugar-filled breakfast cereal and soda? As much as frozen pizza or breakfast candy bars?

They may not be perfect, but when I read that schools lunches are making our kids fat I wonder – when did it become the school’s job to make sure our kids were eating their vegetables? When did that stop being the parent’s job? Even if school children are eating ice cream sundaes and fried cheese sticks for lunch, the parents feed them breakfast and dinner.

We all know that when we see a dog snap at someone’s hand or jump into a visitor’s lap that it’s the owner’s fault. The dog hasn’t been properly trained or the owner has spoiled it. No one blames the dog, it doesn’t know any better. The same is true with children.

I was in my cardiologist’s office a while back waiting to take a stress test. Opposite me were a mom and her 12-year-old son. He had to weigh 200 pounds. While they were waiting to see the doctor, she would hand him one treat after another. She acted like this was the best possible thing she could do for him. Even if he ate salad without dressing for lunch at school everyday, this kid was going to have a weight problem. I foresee them cutting a hole in the side of his house to take him to the hospital in ten to 15 years. Thanks, mom. Love you, too.

I saw an ad for a soft drink the other day that bragged they had stopped using high fructose corn syrup as a sweetener and gone back to using cane sugar. They act as if drinking a cup of vitamin-free, refined cane sugar is about the healthiest thing you can do for yourself. How long will it be before you hear one child tell another, “A soda a day keeps the doctor away”?

Jim Mullen is the author of “Baby’s First Tattoo: A Baby Memory Book for Modern Parents” You can reach him at

Copyright 2009, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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