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CPS Students Reject Healthier Lunches

By Anthony Todd in Food on Feb 21, 2011 4:30PM

Lunch Trays are being returned covered with uneaten fruits and veggies. Photo by RUNFAR.
Over the past several months, Chicago Public School have done a lot to change their food offerings. As we reported a few weeks back, they will be serving more breakfasts in the classroom, healthier lunches and less junk food. Unfortunately (and we could've seen this one coming) the students won't eat them. Lunch sales are dropping and students are complaining that the food has no flavor. Other school districts around the country have had great success with healthy eating campaigns - what's wrong with ours?

Take, for instance, Alice Waters' programs in California, which introduce students to farming, gardening, nutritional information and healthier food in a comprehensive program. This program has been exported around the country. Why does it work? Because the food is great, by all accounts, and when children take ownership of their food, they are less likely to throw it out. At CPS, as in the recently announced LYFE kitchen, "healthy" has some odd, arbitrary definitions. Vegetables must be prepared entirely without salt, and Tribune reporters found "trays of boiled broccoli, zucchini and a pea-carrot mix sat virtually ignored by students." This isn't informed healthy eating, this is over-cooked torture! The program is also incredibly wasteful. CPS school toss out hundreds of pounds of untouched food, and unclear policies make it difficult for students to take food home.

In case you are wondering if this is just the usual tendency of kids not to eat their veggies, Monica Eng tasted the school lunches herself for The Stew. Turns out, they are pretty terrible, according to the ex restaurant critic.

Scholars of school lunches have several suggestions for CPS. First, make healthier foods tastier, more attractive and easier to get. Create incentives for healthy eating, either through lower prices or faster lunch lines. Don't change the entire menu overnight, but gradually work in healthy food. And take a page from more successful lunch programs and show children why they should change their eating habits. Be adults, and teachers. As one Trib source lamented, "I am baffled and disappointed by the tendency of 21st century adults to give in to children's preferences when it comes to food. We know that teens prefer pornography magazines over the classics, but we don't give them copies of Playboy in literature class. Adults are present in children's lives to be role models, disciplinarians and caretakers, not to be popular."