A Hot Debate Over School Lunches in Madison

April 22, 2009

By Lindsay Muscato, HSC Writer/Communications Specialist

In a recent story in The Capital Times, a local newspaper in  Madison, Wisc., parents and school officials debate the real meaning of a “healthy” school lunch. Parents have noticed that the menu seems heavy on processed and pre-packaged foods, and kids spend as much time in the lunch line as at the lunch table. At the same time, parent-led initiatives to include fresh, locally grown ingredients have yet to take off, in part because the school says these initiatives fail to recognize the time and resources necessary to make the ingredients a part of school meals.

One parent says: “We're discouraged from sending cake for a snack on a kid's
birthday… Meanwhile, they're serving French toast
sticks, cookie dough and physedibles. A 'physedible?' What is
that?”

Another parent says:
“We joke that we're going to put his peanut butter sandwich, apple
and milk in the blender so he can drink his lunch.”

The article reports that communication between parents and schools is minimal, making matters worse:

Perceptions and myths cloud the school lunch debate in Madison.
Most parents have no idea how school lunch is prepared, where it
comes from, how much it costs and who pays for it.

And then there was the sweet potato-carrot muffin debacle, when a parent group called Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch tried to integrate local veggies into the menu:

The cleaning, peeling and dicing of fresh sweet potatoes for
more than 2,000 muffins, for example, required extra staff hours… Food service staff grew frustrated, even though Wisconsin Homegrown
Lunch found ways to work around some of these challenges. The Willy
Street Co-op, for example, offered space for Homegrown Lunch
volunteers to prep lunch vegetables so that they could arrive at
food service ready to go. But for [Food Service Director] Kelly, the homemade carrot-sweet
potato muffins were the last straw.

“The kids threw them away,” he said.

Read the rest of the article for an up-close look at the challenges that both parents and school food service teams face when it comes to serving healthy school meals to kids.

HSC supports a reauthorization of the Child Nutrition Act that includes wellness-promoting policies and enough resources so that all children have access to healthy school lunches. Learn more and get involved on our web site.