Monday, March 07, 2005

Food for Thought

California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has proposed a ban on junk food in public schools. This would be a welcome change in any school system. When I was a school child here in Pennsylvania, our school lunches were very basic: A square meal, including carton of milk, and some kind of dessert that didn't always fall into the "junk food" category. Our desserts were things like a small piece of cake, a glob of pudding, applesauce or fruit cocktail, and on special occasions like Thanksgiving, a small block of ice cream wrapped in some kind of cardstock paper. The portions were tiny, even by elementary school standards. We never had any brand name desserts like Hostess treats or Fudgesicles. Spoiling children with that kind of junk was the parents' prerogative.

When I entered high school, I was in for a shock. Not only was there the regular square meal hot lunch line, but there was also an ala carte line that seemed to consist of just about anything made by Hostess, several varieties of chips, various ice cream bars and frozen treats, and handmade sandwiches or leftover main courses from the previous day's menu. I often found myself having about four kinds of junk food for lunch. Tenth grade was such a dietary nightmare that I ended up skipping lunch most of the time in my last two years of high school just to make up for it. Those menu selections were unthinkable when I was in elementary school.

I had no exposure to school lunches until my oldest began Kindergarten in 2001. A lot of things had changed in the ensuing years. The ordinary lunches were surprisingly tasty compared to the garage that was shoveled onto our trays so many years earlier. But there was also more selection that we had, and that selection included some brand name snack foods. As if that wasn't enough, there were snack and soda pop machines in the school lobby.

More people are becoming aware that these kinds of foods contribute to behavior that is usually diagnosed clinically as ADHD. (An interesting dietary regimen can be found here; just ignore the second half of the page.) We need to start holding our schools accountable for the nutritional value of ALL foods made available to children in school, or take direct responsibility and start packing their lunches. Governor Schwarzenegger's proposal needs to be taken seriously, and not just in California. I am hoping that his peers across the nation are inspired by his suggestion to reconsider nutrition in the schools.

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