by Ivy Ken, Member, DC School Food Project
“That’s nasty!” “My lunch looks like floor sweepings mixed into fructose.” #ThanksMichelleObama
Refrains like these about disgusting school food are as American as apple pie. And more often than not, kids who complain about the food they are served in school are right: it’s gross.
They deserve better.
That’s why I urge you to sign your kid up for the school meal program.
Wait, what? I’ve acknowledged that school food is gross, so why would I want your kids to eat it? Am I a sales representative for the District’s multi-billion-dollar school food service management company, SodexoMagic? No, definitely not. Am I a DCPS employee in the Office of Food and Nutrition Services who is very earnestly trying to make sure your kids’ meals are healthy and tasty? No.
I’m someone who knows that 76% of kids in our public school system have no option but to eat the meals our schools provide. And when the rest of us pack our kids lunch and opt out of the school meal system, we absolve ourselves of responsibility to make sure every kid in DC gets great food.
All summer, those Pinterest boards with photos of delicious lunches packed by loving moms have taunted you. Now that it’s August, you gather your strength and imagine that this year—this is the one!—you’re going to get organized and make a perfectly balanced bento box for your darling each morning. In fact, you’ll make it the night before because you’ve got resolve.
By November, Facebook posts about the “Good Enough Mom” start showing up, reminding you that packing lunches for your kids is a pain and you don’t have to be good at it. Throw some crap in there from Costco. Smear last night’s mashed potatoes into a container. Ketchup is a vegetable, right?
I’m here to tell you that you can stop the madness. Stop packing lunch! It costs money – money that Whole Foods will gladly take from you. It adds pressure to your life, as you berate yourself for not being good at it or for not kicking it up a notch and demanding that your kids do it themselves, you know, because life skills. Studies have shown that lunches packed from home are typically not healthier than lunches served at school, so that excuse is out the window too.
But the main reason to stop packing lunches is because communities have power.
You, as an individual person with individual kids, have power too. You can control exactly what goes into the lunches you pack, and that feels good. You’ve read magazines to educate yourself about the best foods to include, and you communicate love to your child by knowing what she likes and what you’re willing to do for her. Imagine, though, that you took that individual power in your individual family and used it instead to help every kid in DCPS feel that love and taste that delicious food.
That’s what all our kids deserve.
They need your advocacy. When they come home on Day One and say lunch was disgusting, call DCPS and SodexoMagic and tell them. (Or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll tell them.) When DCPS and SodexoMagic do not improve meal quality to the level you think it should be, join together with other parents, teachers, and students to make collective demands. You have that right! You have that privilege. You have that responsibility.
We need you, parents. We need you to put the lunchbox down, walk slowly away from the kitchen counter, and demand that the taxes you have already paid for the lunches that are provided at your kids’ school be put to the best possible use.
And when your kids beg you to please, please, please pack them a lunch from home, tell them you’re giving them something better: a chance to contribute to their community. Involve them in the fight to insist that food at their school be fantastic, and show them what a small group of thoughtful, committed community members can accomplish together.