The Chicago Tribune is reporting that one city school has banned all brown bagged/homemade lunches unless the student has a medical condition or food allergy. The reason? The school principal claims that the school's cafeteria lunches are HEALTHIER. When I first heard this tidbit (with no background) on CNN this morning, I was outraged. However, as I read through the article, I found myself siding with the school and its seemingly outrageous policy. While there are probably many families out there that do provide their kids with a healthy lunch, including fruit, vegetables, whole grains, etc, there are plenty of families who don't, can't or who do and then the kids trade away, swap, or ditch their healthy lunches in favour of unhealthy junk food.
In many urban areas (especially in poorer neighbourhoods), there is often little or no access to fresh fruits and vegetables. Major grocery stores are often too far to travel to by bus/walking so parents end up shopping at convenience stores. The closest thing to fresh fruit for some folks is a strawberry poptart. And if, by chance, fresh options are available, they're often more expensive than the junk food. When living on a fixed income or a very small wage, many families end up buying what they can afford, not what they should be eating. We're raising a generation of soda/potato chip addicted children who, when they are faced with fresh veggies, turn their nose up and complain that they don't like the taste - no wonder they don't like it; broccoli isn't loaded with salt, sugar, oil and a ton of preservatives you can't pronounce. When left to their own devices, kids will often choose the treats or familiar items (such as chicken nuggets and fries) over peas and a pork chop.
Don't get me wrong; I'm not saying I think most school lunches are healthy. Most of them, again, are filled with salt and sugar and come from a box in a freezer rather than plucked from the soil and delivered fresh. However, if the school is offering some fresher options, the chances of it being healthier than soda and chips is pretty good. The problem, however, is bigger than school lunches vs. homemade. If we make fresh foods more readily available to urban areas, and a price that everyone can afford, perhaps we can start to change the way our kids look at food.