Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Brown Bagging it

It appeared my son was making his own lunch for school. “What are you doing?” I asked, because I thought asking him if aliens had infiltrated his brain might scare his little sister.

“The lunches at school are terrible,” he said. “Nachos and pizza every day. There’s nothing healthy to eat.”

I don’t even want to think about how bad the food could be to drive a twelve-year-old boy to make and bring his own lunch to school. I mean think about it. Do you know any twelve-year-old boys who wouldn’t want to live on pizza and nachos every day? And this was my son Kyle we’re talking about. The same child who at every meal remains ever vigilant that he not accidentally ingest a vegetable. But the available food choices have been an ongoing complaint from both my sons since the beginning of the school year.

“Don’t they have chicken sandwiches or something?” I asked, knowing certainly they must.

“No.”

Seriously?

“What about salad?”

“No.”

No salad? What do the future sorority girls eat?

“Do they have fruit?”

“Yeah, they have fruit.” But man cannot live on fruit alone.

The staples of their Chicago Public School’s cafeteria lunchroom were nachos and pizza and burgers. Initially, I’d come to the conclusion the schools were merely giving these kids what they wanted. The cafeteria ladies probably got sick, like I have, of spending hours and hours in the kitchen slaving over a healthy, organic, soy eggplant parmesan only to have those ungrateful little upstarts ask if they could just make a peanut butter and jelly sandwich instead, or say they weren’t really that hungry after all, which might cause me—I mean, the cafeteria ladies, to launch into a tirade about how when they were kids, “Dinner was what was put in front of you and does this look like a restaurant to you?”

However, after several months, the frustration with the lousy cafeteria food had apparently reached the point where drastic measures were required: a twelve-year-old boy chose to make his own lunch.

So it was great news when we saw the article in yesterday’s Chicago Tribune about the group of high school students who were planning to go to the school board meeting to complain about the cafeteria food choices and ask that healthier food be made available. And it was even better news today when CPS announced they would not be serving nachos every day anymore, only once a week, and that they would be trying to serve healthier foods. Although I know without asking my sons will be sad to see the Pop-Tarts go.

Outside of that unfortunate eggplant incident, I’ve never really tried to stuff super healthy food down my kids. In fact, I’m the mom who introduced Twinkies to their Senior Kindergarten class (it’s what they wanted for their birthday snack) much to the chagrin of the other moms, some of whom promptly crossed me and my sons off of their preferred playdate list. (One of them wouldn’t speak to me again until the third grade.)

I was extremely proud my son wanted to eat a healthy lunch. I’d like to believe I had something to do with it. My philosophy is that part of eating healthy most of the time is knowing you’re allowed to have the bad stuff once in a while. It’s like being on a diet. (In fact, it is a diet!) You know how it goes. As soon as someone tells you that you can’t eat bread, within three minutes their head morphs into a giant loaf of San Francisco sourdough.

So at our house, the kids are allowed candy and Twinkies and cookies and ice cream, and I watch them monitor themselves. They don’t always choose junk. I can’t keep enough fruit in the house. I’m at Costco just about every week buying giant skids of apples and pallets of bananas. I will occasionally admonish them to “make a better choice” than potato chips, and the best part is, they do. One of my proudest parenting moments was watching my kids push away unfinished bowls of ice cream because they were full. In forty-six years I’ve never been able to do that.

So bravo to Chicago Public Schools for being proactive and listening to the students and for agreeing to provide healthier lunches. Beginning in June. (We don’t want to rush into anything, after all.)

For me, the acid test of this new program will be, if Kyle ever decides to pack his own lunch again next fall, to inspect the inside of his brown bag and not see Pop-Tarts and nachos.