Student Perspective: Making the Change to Healthier School Food

June 21, 2010

Today we have a blog by HSC’s newest intern, Christine Andersen. Christine recently completed her freshman year of high school and will be sharing her perspective on the HSC blog throughout her internship this summer. Many thanks and a very warm welcome to Christine!

Five years ago, my middle school changed its school lunch program, and the outcome was unforeseen. 

My elementary school had a standard lunch program that allowed students to pick one of three hot lunches, along with milk. Many of my fellow fourth-grade classmates agreed that the choices were rather mysterious, and we all looked forward to entering fifth grade, where we could choose from the infamous a-la-carte menu. When fifth grade rolled around, we were very excited to move to our new, seemingly enormous school that had food described by our upperclassmen as far “better.”

My family had always been very health-smart, so even though I was only ten years old, I had a sense of what was and was not good for me to eat. My mom had taught me the importance of protein and vegetables and the distinction between bad fats and good fats. However, this judgment became impaired when my choice came down to pepperoni pizza, a cheeseburger, mozzarella sticks or breaded chicken patties. My beverage options had gone from 2% milk and chocolate milk to caffeinated iced tea and soda. In the heat of the moment at the lunch line, my ten years of healthy eating knowledge was quickly forgotten.

One night, as my father was scrambling through papers on the kitchen counter, he came across the school lunch menu, and put down everything he was doing to read through it in astonishment.

He then proceeded to ask me what I had eaten for lunch that day and began to wonder how this had gotten by him for so long. So over the next few weeks, he made a series of phone calls to several people, and I became amazed at how one person’s passion could go so far so quickly. He joined a few committees that did some investigations on the old program and discovered that our school was slipping past the Illinois nutrition laws.

By the end of the school year, my dad and the wellness committee were able to hire a new food provider to begin my sixth-grade year. They offered changes such as whole wheat pizza crust, real fruit “slushies,” and  hamburgers made from real meat, while cutting out a lot of the junk food.

Many people thought the new food would be unappealing to us, causing a decline in the number of students who buy lunch, which would be bad for the school. Students who had been looking forward to getting to eat the middle school food thought it would go back to being like it was in elementary school, especially my best friend who, when I informed her of the work my dad had done, said I had “ruined her lunch” long before the school year even started.

Much to her surprise, within the first two weeks of school, my friend, along with many other students, went from buying their lunch a few times a week to almost every day.

They found that the new lunch gave them more choices and offered more selections of food that tasted more like the food their parents would serve them, as opposed to what they would find at an amusement park. It also gave them more energy to get through the day so they no longer crashed two hours later. Also, the broader selection of food interested them.

As a club gymnast, I found that I now had plenty of energy that lasted until practice and I no longer needed to eat a second lunch at 4:00. Everyone who had been hesitant before was now thrilled to find out that the new lunches brought in more money and were enjoyed by the students. I felt that my class focus and athletic performance in gymnastics were greatly improved now that I was more energized during the day.

Most importantly, my friends agree that eating a healthy lunch improved our attitudes for the rest of the day.

 

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