Looking for answers in all the wrong places

The bureaucratic approach helps to explain why the system of feeding children in our schools is in such a mess. The U.S. Department of Agriculture, which oversees school foods, has come up with their answer to the unhealthy foods most children eat in their school cafeteria. They are giving $2 million to food behavioral scientists to learn how to convince children to select healthier foods as they go through the lunch line. One such solution is to hide the chocolate milk behind the plain milk; another is to put the apples and oranges in a pretty basket.

Feeding children - a fable for our time
This is a story about a family that does not exist, or so we hope!
Note: The use of a homeschooling family was necessary to illustrate our point; it is not a criticism of homeschooling.

Their kitchen table doubles as a classroom, and each morning Mom washes down the table with a disinfectant. Since she never opens the windows, she sprays the rooms with a scented aerosol product to cover up any odors. Scented soap and plug-ins add more fragrance.Let’s call them the Smiths. They are a large family, with 10 children, a dad who makes a modest income and a mom who homeschools the children.

Breakfast consists of an assortment of single-serve packages of cereal. A favorite version comes in its own plastic bowl. It contains 1.3 ounces of cereal and sells for 99 cents apiece. (Mom is not aware that the cost for this is more than $12 a pound!) She passes a Costco and a farmer’s market on her way to the local supermarket where she buys food for the family.

Some of the children pour pink strawberry-flavored milk on their cereal, while others opt for chocolate. Mom was concerned about all the sugar in the flavored milks and paid a consultant for advice on what to do. The consultant told her to hide the flavored milks in back of the white milk (but the kids weren’t fooled). Actually, most of the children would prefer water as a primary drink, but Mom doesn’t allow it.orange1623858

Along with the cereal, the children are each given an orange and a plastic spoon/fork, but since they aren’t able to actually peel the orange and are not allowed to use knives, and Mom doesn’t want to cut the fruit up, it all gets thrown into the garbage when breakfast is over. Sometimes breakfast includes applesauce, packaged in single-serve plastic containers. For lunch, Mom thaws pre-packaged frozen peanut butter & jelly sandwiches or serves the lowest-priced chicken nuggets she can buy, and frozen French fries.

All of the wrappers, papers, disposable plates, and plastics from the meal are put in the trash where tDepositphotos_108548028_l-2015hey will add to the community’s landfill.

As part of the homeschooling lessons, they are studying nutrition and the food groups; the children have even planted a small garden in the back yard. They are very interested in the different foods they have grown but aren’t allowed to eat any of them. After studying nutrition, they have a snack of blue slushies.

For the math lessons the younger children learn to count using M&Ms and end up eating all of them.

Several of the children are overweight and three of them have asthma. Because some of them have trouble focusing, the Smiths have decided to pay for tutoring, even though they really can’t afford it.

candycoating-69470_640The children don’t get to play outside often since they need to spend so much time preparing for upcoming tests. Their grades aren’t very good, they are tired, distracted and cranky, and Mom doesn’t understand why her role as a parent and teacher is not more rewarding. But she doesn’t have much time to dwell on it as she gets out several boxes of Hamburger Helper and starts to prepare dinner.

As you have no doubt guessed, this is what a household might look like if parents followed the same practices as many schools.

School gardens - healthy but inedible

School gardens are an increasingly popular way to introduce children to vegetables and other freshly grown food. The Chicago public school system has an impressive program that includes greenhouses and farms that raise vegetables of all types, fruits, and herbs, as well as fish. Teens at the Chicago High School for Agricultural Sciences tend these food paradises.

But here’s the catch: the students aren’t allowed to eat any of this food!A group of eight children of different ethnicities stand proudly by the garden they planted on an urban roof top with a city skyline in the background. The children are wearing colorful shirts

Restrictive regulations, developed by the Chicago Public Schools and the system’s food distributor, Chartwells-Thompson, have very strict guidelines for the school gardens. In order to serve the food in a school cafeteria, no pesticides may be applied, and the only compost allowed is commercially prepared organic compost.

But the produce supplied by Chartwells-Thompson is allowed to be treated with pesticides and herbicides of all kinds. The crops produced by students, which have few pesticides, are either sold or given away; none of the food ends up in school cafeterias!