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Robert St. John

Restaurateur, author, enthusiastic traveler, & world-class eater.

A Riot in the Cafeteria

August 28, 2006

A Riot in the Cafeteria

The food police are at it again. This time they’re targeting school lunchboxes.

The Center for Science in the Public Trust has recently issued a Lunchbox Makeover for school-age children giving them, what they believe are, “10 tips for a healthy school lunch.”

It is my belief that— to a person— everyone who works at the CSPI is childless. Here are their supposed “easy” suggestions for making over our children’s lunchboxes:

1. Encourage your child to choose one percent or fat-free milk. The problem is not the milk, but how to keep the milk cold. It’s already hard enough to get cold milk at school. I can remember the milk cart at my school used to arrive mid-morning immediately after recess. There’s nothing quite as unrefreshing as a glass of warm milk immediately after running for 20 minutes in the scorching Mississippi heat.

2. Leave the cheese off sandwiches, unless it’s low-fat or fat-free cheese. My daughter inherited her cheese addiction from her mother. Their philosophy: “If it tastes good, it’ll taste better with cheese.” I’ll let the CSPI try and fight that battle. Though I know the adversary, and they don’t have a chance. My wife thinks cheese is one of the major food groups and should be reclassified as chewable calcium.

3. Switch from fatty luncheon meats to low-fat alternatives. If God would have wanted us to eat low-fat bologna, he would have made skinnier pigs.

4. Include at least one fruit in every lunch. I have no problem with this one. In elementary school, I used fruit as a bargaining chip to trade for other people’s bologna and cheese sandwiches. An apple and two bananas were usually good for three chocolate chip cookies and a Pop Tart.

5. Sneak vegetables— like lettuce or slices of cucumber, tomato, green pepper, roasted peppers, or zucchini— onto sandwiches. What planet are these people living on? My wife, who is somewhere over the age of 30, doesn’t even eat cucumbers, tomatoes or green peppers, how will she sneak them onto my child’s bologna and cheese sandwich?

6. Use whole grain bread instead of white bread for sandwiches. Amazingly enough, we’re a step ahead of the game on this one. At our house it’s always been 100% wheat bread since the children were born.

7. Limit cookies, snack cakes, doughnuts, brownies, and other sweet baked goods. Actually, my vote is for no sugar for anyone under the age of 16. When they’re able to drive, we’ll let them eat sugar. I’ll support that legislation, tomorrow. At our house, we don’t let our children eat sugar-filled foods before they go to school, and certainly don’t want them eating processed sugar while they’re at school. To our kids, sugar is like granulated amphetamine. My children are active enough; I couldn’t imagine loading them up on doughnuts, cake, and brownies, and turning them loose on their teachers. Although, while babysitting, my mother seems to take great delight in feeding them a few scoops of ice cream just before she drops them off at our house. Once, I think I heard her laughing hysterically as she drove out of the driveway.

8. Limit potato, corn, tortilla, or other chips. At this point, I think we need a quick recap— warm milk, no cheese, low-fat processed turkey, kiwi, roasted pepper, cucumber, and tomato with a slice of wheat bread— no Fritos, no Ruffles, no Tostitos. Where’s the benefit of being a kid, if you don’t get to eat a few potato chips? I’m not talking about sitting in front of a television or video game and eating a large can of Pringles. We adults spend the rest of our lives watching what we eat. Kids run and play and spend all day burning calories. I say, “Pass the Doritos.”

9. If you pack juice, make sure it’s 100% juice. Good luck. Have you ever seen an all-out riot created by a nine and five year old? It can turn nasty pretty quickly.

10. Don’t send Lunchables. Do we actually need someone to tell us that?

Are these healthy suggestions? Yes.

Are they “easy” suggestions, as the CSPI states? No.

In a nutshell, be realistic. Don’t load your children up on sugary and fatty foods. Don’t let them lounge in front of the television all day, and for your own safety, wait until they’re 21 to feed them zucchini, green peppers, and cucumbers.

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