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School Lunch Contest: Eat Lunch With Your Kids, Send Us the Pictures, Win Prizes!

Last week's school lunch post, our "Open Letter to Our Children," was a direct response to the sixth graders at Minneapolis' Sanford Middle School who I'd met with the month before. Their question was simple and heartbreaking: if our communities love us, why do they knowingly feed us this junk?

The response to this post was fantastic. Many of you provided explanations, made suggestions, and shared your own views, and we at SGT were reminded once again of how much we love this community. For example, Laura wrote:

We do our best to feed our kids as healthy food as we can [...] When the kids tell me they are still hungry and I see their tray devoid of any fruit or vegetable I tell them they need to take those healthy foods and make better choices. St. Paul Public Schools has also implemented a program to serve locally raised foods when it is available and in season.

Greg Reynolds from Riverbend Farm wrote:

If they had $1 more per kid per day for better ingredients it would cost around $180 per kid per year. The average cost to educate a child in Minnesota is about $6000 per year. That's 3%.

What do you get for the money spent on better food in schools? Better test scores, better attendance, and fewer discipline problems. It is a pennies on the dollar investment to improve the effectiveness of our education spending.

The feds are going to reauthorize the school nutrition bill by October 1st. Now is the time to contact your elected Representative and Senators to tell them that better food for school kids is important [...] Just as important, they need to get junk food out of schools.

School Lunch Lady brought tears to a few of our eyes. She wrote:

If we got real food in we couldn't cook it. Not enough time. Not enough people. Not enough training. Not enough refrigerated storage.

Each month our "kitchen" makes between $4000-6000 selling potato chips, fruit snacks, juice boxes, and bottled water. The administrator's administrator talks about nutrition. But her bottom line is the monthly profit. That is what her monthly meetings are about.

Four of the five lunch ladies do not get health insurance or benefits.

We know good food. We want to serve good food. What falls off the truck is what we have to serve. Serving mediocre food to children is a difficult job. It makes us sad. We do what we can. We would love some help from the top. We are changing as much as we can from the bottom.

I didn't expect that we'd all agree on the article or on what needs to be done to fix the school lunch system, but I did expect we'd agree that the system was broken and that we needed to fix it. So a few comments really surprised me, like this one from Jackie:

I had a school lunch today & it was great! Where else can you get a well balanced meal for $3.15 that includes a cup of milk? I wish people would taste test before they criticize all of the school lunch programs. Not all school lunches are bad, but when you generalize to all districts like this article does it creates an uphill battle for change. Some districts, like the one I work at, are exemplary! I cannot create a meal at home for half the cost or quality that I get at work. So, Hats off to the “High – Quality” Districts!

Is it possible that we can't all agree that public school lunch needs to improve? Where is this amazing, mythical place that Jackie describes? Are the handful of schools I'm personally familiar with worse than most?

Our kids are waiting - let's go!Our kids are waiting - let's go!In order for us to move forward, we need to agree that there's a problem, right?

The Contest

In the spirit of being engaged, having fun, building community, opening our eyes, and making a difference in the lives of our kids, Simple, Good, and Tasty is hosting a school lunch contest. Here's your challenge:

  • Step One: Meet your child for lunch at school. Order the school lunch. (If you don't have a child in school but want to participate, you'll find a way, we're sure.)
  • Step Two: Photograph the school lunch.
  • Step Three: Eat it.
  • Step Four: Send the picture(s) to us at info@simplegoodandtasty.com. Include your name, email address, the city and state where you took the picture, and any other information you'd like (name of the school, your own thoughts, etc.)

We'll post the pictures you send, and winners will be selected based on the comments received. Prizes include:

  1. GRAND PRIZE: One year of free organic milk from our partners at Organic Valley.
  2. One set of Snack Taxi reusable lunch bags, donated by the kind and generous folks Linden Hills Co-op
  3. Two lunchboxes, also donated by Linden Hills Co-op
  4. Three Easy Lunchbox Systems
  5. A DVD of the film King Corn
  6. More!

To enter this contest, please submit your photos no later than midnight on Monday, March 29. We'll post the results by April 5 and announce winners on or around April 12. (Since we're asking you to go eat lunch with your children, we're giving you plenty of time.)

Maybe we'll all look at the pictures, collectively decide that school lunch is pretty darned good, and move on to another issue that seems more important - but I don't think so.

I can't wait to see what you come up with.

This contest was proudly submitted to Food Renegade's Fight Back Fridays.

Lee Zukor is the founder of Simple, Good, and Tasty. Email him at lee@simplegoodandtasty.com.

Comments

Lee, do you have a kid I can borrow? :) Or do I not qualify because I'm on the about page? Darn.

No way Kate - feel free to borrow a kid, you're in!

I am a school lunch lady at a small catholic k-8 school.
I am VERY proud of the lunches we serve.we prepare the old fashioned hot lunches from scratch,you know the ones we all remembered as kids.we can do this because we have a great kitchen,and great staff that understand the importance of a home cooked hot meal.we charge a little bit more then the public school but I would be glad to pay extra for higher quality for my children
The large mpls school district prepares all their food in a central location, puts it in paper trays ,plastic wraps it and sends it to the schools in the morning to be reheated.I have had lunch and breakfast at the mpls public school with my children and all i can say is we are really doing a dis service to the children who know nothing about food except for what they expereance at school, what a shame and a missed opportunity to educate our children that there is good quality healthy food.I was also Shocked with the amount of time they had to eat.We are teaching our children that woofing your food down is healthy,no wonder why their stomach hurts.try eating your meal in 5 min.

Thanks for the note, lunch lady. I'm guessing the school you work at is a prIvate one? I have no desire to group all schools, budgets, locations, or workers together, or to embarrass or upset anyone. But I'm really, really excited to learn what people experience when they eat lunch in public schools, and I'm hoping to see pictures that surpise me in all sorts of good ways.

What a great idea, Lee! Have you thought about explicitly inviting Members of Congress and local/state officials to join? Or would that just ruin the spirit by turning it into a photo op?

Thanks Carrie - please feel free to invite whomever you'd like, including government officials - let's get the word out. If it takes a photo op to get folks to eat at school with their kids, I'm for it. I hope you send an entry too!

LOVE this idea!

I'm going to talk about it Wednesday, 3/17 from 10-11 when I have Manatee County Schools Nutrition Director on my radio show on wslr.org. I'd love for you to call in and ask her questions! Studio Phone 941- 355-4540. Getting better food in our schools is.... IMPORTANT!

Thanks,

Lael Hazan

Thanks Lael! I'll try - I hope others do too.

You have hit a hot button with this subject. It is near and dear to my heart, I have a 7 year old that is a very picky eater. I am doing my part to expand her healthy choices, which includes becomming part of the food service committee in our school district. It's a tough one to tackle, it has become such a socio-economic issue. On one hand there are kids that get free or reduced-rate lunches, and it could be the only healthy meal they get that day. Our school also qualifies for free breakfast to all students. On the other hand, the menus are driven by what is available, easy to prepare and what the students will eat. At the elementary level, the schools have started offering more choices on fruits and vegetables. Unfortunately, the veggies are so plain and they are not allowed to put any salt on them, no wonder the kids are not that interested in them. I fully agree with many of the other comments about two things we should be able to change: 1. they are rushed 2. they do not understand where food comes from. I had second graders at the lunch table who were puzzled when presented with a full piece of chicken, they didn't know what it was and they didn't know how to eat it. Really? How have our children gotten so disconnected?

Thanks for your great note, Mindy, so true! I just had lunch with my son at his school in Minneapolis, and there were several reasonably good choices - apples, salad, and fruit-in-a-cup. Not terrible at all. When I spoke with the lunch woman, she said that many better choices have become available over the past 2 years, but that it's nearly impossible to get the kids to take them.

I was derided by a bunch of second graders for taking both salad AND an apple - they called me a pig! :-) But the chicken nuggets... THOSE I had to share with the group. (I didn't mind.)

-Lee

I was a lunch monitor for a public middle school in Minnesota for 4 years while I went to college. I had the opportunity to eat the food there every day I worked and I did. I had no problems with it at all and some days I would even be excited to go to work for the lunch. They had everything a person needed on the food pyramid.

I do admit that most kids would not buy the school lunches and instead they would go to the snack window and buy chips, candy, ice cream, cookies and other junk foods. First of all, the junk food isn't good for them when that's all they eat at school. Second, most children don't throw away the wrappers to their junk food and they leave it for someone else to pick up. There is a lot of disrespect from the children these days when it comes to school lunches, the school, the staff, and their fellow classmates. I would say the disrespect is a bigger problem these days over the school lunches.

Overall, I would say get rid of the snack windows at schools even though it is a way for the school to make extra income. There are other ways to make money or to save money and to save the kids from unhealthy foods.

May I enter this competiton, we are an education center/ Camp. We also provide meals to local schools and groups while they are on site.

Hi Mary,

If you take a picture of a school lunch, describe where it is and what you think of it, don't work for SGT, and aren't a member of our families, you can enter. The goal of the contest to to showcase meals that are actually being offered to kids. I hope that helps.

Thanks,
Lee

Accepting your challenge in Texas! I volunteer at the school all next week...so, I get to eat my fill of enchiladas (despite the e-coli meat recall), salisbury steak, spaghetti, a hamburger, and chicken rings! Can't wait.

Tim, you're totally right - why do we offer kids things we know wil make it harder for them to make the right choices? Especially when we know that these choices form the basis of their future health?

Just a Mom, you're clearly not "just" anything. I'm excited to see your pictures next week. I hope we all learn something together. Thank you!

Lee...your right..my new name may wind up being "just a mom with gastroenteritis." ;-) I can't wait to report back and let everyone know what a chicken ring is...it sounds so exotic!

Lee, I am excited to see what you are doing here. School lunches have frustrated me for years. I am also excited to see Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution coming up on television soon; I hope it is real and not watered down, but being somewhat familiar with his food philosophy, I think it may be something good. Here is his petition: http://www.jamieoliver.com/campaigns/jamies-food-revolution/petition

This is a great idea! Can you give me specifics about how a winner will be chosen?

Thanks Chanelle. We're going to post the photos and information we get and let our community vote on which one is their favorite. Winners will be the people with the most votes.

Lee, what was the outcome of the contest and will there be another contest next year? Thanks, Catering Indianapolis

This is a really a fun event, the people behind this made a great job, fantastic idea.

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