Wake Up, Parents! Or Let Kids Run the Cafeteria

Wake Up, Parents! Or Let Kids Run The Cafeteria

Thu 23 Jun 2011

Story by Ed Bruske

Suddenly a debate over chocolate milk in school is heating up in the pages of The Washington Post. Or should I say our hometown paper has finally noticed there's a food revolution going on in D.C. school cafeterias now that a first-grader has polled his fellow students and found--shock!--they are not drinking as much milk as some people think they ought to since chocolate and strawberry milk were taken off the menu a year ago.

According to a 7-year-old’s poll of about 100 school mates, 58 percent are not drinking milk. They want their chocolate milk back. But here’s the good news: 42 percent are drinking milk, and that’s a lot more than are eating the green beans.

This dispute centers on something kids love--sugary milk. Nobody is conducting any surveys to see how many kids are shunning the vegetables or whole grains the USDA says kids need more of to avoid becoming obese. Having spent the last year and a half monitoring what kids eat in my daughter's elementary school here in the District, I'm here to deliver some bad news: obscene quantities of vegetables and whole grains are being thrown in the trash every day.

There’s no secret here. If we allowed kids to write the school menu, they’d be eating nothing but chicken nuggets, Tater Tots, pizza and French fries. Instead, we’re now serving them chicken on the bone, roasted sweet potatoes, sautéed squash and Caesar salad.

Unfortunately, there aren’t any grownups in the cafeteria talking to the kids about the new and improved food. Nobody is marketing the new menu to the children who are supposed to eat it. In other words, adults really aren't following through to make this food revolution a success.

The real issue in this debate is not just the sugar in chocolate milk. We already know kids love sugar. The bigger problem is what chocolate milk stands for. More than any other item on the school menu, chocolate milk embodies our failure to pay attention to the way kids are eating, our surrender to a toxic food culture that embraces industrially processed convenience foods because they are easy shortcuts.

It’s hardly any surprise we find ourselves in the midst of an obesity epidemic when we teach kids to expect sugar with their food.Chocolate milk sums up our failure as adults to engage children in the more difficult act of eating thoughtfully, our willingness too often to just let kids eat what they want. Getting children to eat more green beans and less candy is hard work.

Hooray for first-graders researching the food question and starting this discussion. But that doesn't mean it's time to bring back chocolate milk. It means parents (and maybe the Washington Post, too) need to pay more attention. If we want kids to drink more milk, then let's teach kids to like plain milk.

Heck, while we're at it, we could pony up some more money for electric milk dispensers in the schools--cool machines like the ones I've seen in use in Berkeley and Boulder and other progressive school districts--so kids can help themselves to as much cold, delicious, organic plain milk as they like instead of the stuff we serve them in those cheap little cartons.

Getting kids to eat more healthfully means all of us becoming more involved--with our time and with our wallets. But as my wife likes to say, this is a process, not an event. This revolution is just beginning, and there's lots more work ahead. Think about that before you try to undo the progress that's already been made.

Read Ed’s full blog post here.

About the author: Ed Bruske is a food writer, chef and gardener living in the District of Columbia.


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