What is wrong with school lunches? A teacher’s lament

By Kelly Thunstrom

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Fed Up With Lunch: How One Anonymous Teacher Revealed the Truth About School Lunches – and How We Can Change Them! by Sarah Wu (otherwise known as “Mrs. Q”).  Sarah is a teacher in the Chicago Public School System who, for one year, decided that she would eat the lunch that her students were forced to eat.  She not only ate it, but she also photographed it and blogged about it.  Fearful of the repercussions, only with the publication of this book is she coming clean about her “true identity”.  I have contacted Wu for an interview and hope to have one soon.


So true is my passion about the need for lunch reform that I also hope to review another book about the topic in the future – Lunch Wars: How to Start a School Food Revolution and Win the Battle for Our Children’s Health by Amy Kalafa.  While the former book is about a teacher doing something for reform, this is about a parent.


As a former teacher like Wu, I have seen what having a daily donut (sometimes three when the cafeteria had leftovers and was trying to get rid of them), ice cream, and chocolate milk can do to a child’s demeanor in the afternoon.  If there is a birthday to celebrate, add a cupcake on top of that.  Sometimes there would be two or three birthdays in one week, and the children would bring in cupcakes for the class to celebrate with them.  Believe me…I am certainly not trying to say that a child should not have a donut, a cupcake, or ice cream every once in awhile, but if this habit becomes daily, it is a huge problem.


My normal lunch duty consisted of walking around making sure that the kids were behaving and eating their lunch.  However, some of the “lunches” I saw were better off not eaten.  It was rare to see a child eating a salad or fruit.  To the parents’ credit, sometimes they packed a nutritious lunch for their child.  I hate to tell these parents that, more often than not, this lunch ended up in the trash.  Their child would simply buy cookies, ice cream, or mooch junk off their friends.


My schools, as in most schools, had recess after lunch.  Whether inside recess or outside recess, the children and teachers couldn’t win.  If we had inside recess due to the weather, the kids just went to their classrooms to play board games.  This meant that the exercise the children received (if they weren’t involved in sports) was solely in their 45-minute weekly gym class.  If we went outside, most kids played football, soccer, or basketbell, getting exercise.  When it was time to go inside, the kids complained of upset stomachs because they were running around after eating.  Nurse visits after lunch ran rampant.


I call this article a “Teacher’s Lament” because people have no idea how difficult it is to teach a 9-year-old or 13-year-old after they eat a horrible lunch.  I could be standing on my desk, singing a song, with flashing lights, and all the technology in the world, and nothing would change.  When giving a test, I would always notice a difference in scores between when I gave the test in the morning and when I gave it in the afternoon.  Until we start making vast improvements in what we serve our children for lunch, I fear that this trend will only get worse.  I applaud those like Wu and Kalafa who are trying to make a concrete change.  Because without it, I fear for our children’s future health and well being.


Kelly Thunstrom has been teaching for almost 15 years, working with the fourth, fifth, and seventh grades full-time.  She has been named to Who’s Who in Education, as well as awarded the Faculty Award for Academic Excellence in Education.  Kelly is editor and publisher of 1776books, which provides reviews of various types of books.  She also writes book reviews for Bookloons, local theater reviews for Stage Partners, and is the arts reviewer for the local Patch syndicates.

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Posted in Education on November 16th, 2011 | Permalink | Comments »
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