Disclaimer: this essay is my opinion alone and does not represent the view of Unity Charter School nor anyone who works there. I’m going to vent a little bit, so fasten your seat belts.
One of the things I do to stay out of trouble is to volunteer in the kitchen at our daughter’s charter school. Prepared with as many locally grown and organic ingredients as the school can afford, the lunch program features a vegetarian menu with options for special diets such as vegan and gluten-free. The lunch program is one of the many highlights of this school. It’s received press many times in the local newspapers; the chef is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America and she’s cooked in big-time restaurants in New York City.
This year, the school has expanded, moving into a beautiful new building and increasing enrollment by 50%. The lunch program, on hiatus as the kitchen was refurbished, is about to kick into gear.
This afternoon, the chef apprised of me some of the questions she’s had recently from parents. “What if my child doesn’t eat lunch?” “What if my child doesn’t like the food you serve?”
How do you answer these questions? Number one: whether you send lunch from home or have her buy lunch at school, if your child doesn’t eat lunch, that’s a choice that she made that day.
More importantly, the whinging “What if my child doesn’t like what’s on the menu?” If your child doesn’t like what’s on the menu, it’s because you haven’t fed him right at home. Sorry to tell you. Throw tomatoes at me if you want, but it’s true.
While vegetarian, the menu does, uh, shall we say, cater to U.S. mainstream youthful tastes. During the month, entrees include pasta with [vegetarian] marinara sauce. Scrambled eggs, or tofu for the vegans. Pasta with broccoli and a green salad. Every Friday, there’s fabulous whole wheat pizza. Once a week, our chef prepares something where she indulge her creative streak, for example lo mein or falafel. There’s nothing that’s really out of left field, like carrots with hijiki seaweed or braised brussels sprouts.
Yet I’ve seen some – not all – kids come back for seconds or thirds of pizza or pasta while refusing to have a green vegetable touch their plate. Meals that don’t feature cheese or wheat are markedly less popular than those that do. While your kids may have come to the charter school from a mainstream public school that serves corn dogs, hamburgers and French fries for lunch, that doesn’t excuse you, the parent, from not exposing your child to a variety of foods at home.
As a parent, I totally understand how difficult it is to get a good, homecooked-from-scratch meal on the table at a decent hour on a school night. I’ve returned home from work at 6 P.M., with my family waiting for me to put dinner on the table SOON!! Like within one hour!!
I might add that we’re not 100% vegetarian at home.
In a family where both parents work, getting dinner on the table at a reasonable hour is a real challenge. Yet, it remains your responsibility to expose your child to a wide variety of foods. If you’ve been feeding them Froot Loops and hot dogs and pasta sauce from a jar bought at the grocery store, you’re doing them a disservice. And good appetite, like manners, begins at home. If you haven’t exposed your kids to a wide variety of foods at home, they’re not going to become well-rounded overnight by the school lunch program.
Real food benefits both your child and the ecosystem. Eating a variety of different vegetables, fruits, grains and meats, gives you a complete spectrum of nutrients, fiber and calories in your diet. When you expose your child to these, you
In addition, you’re standing up to the monoculture farm system that is pushing small family farms to the brink of bankruptcy in this country.
Most important of all, a real meal, cooked from scratch, is a labor of love that you give to your family.
So make a grocery list. Browse online to see what catches your fancy that you haven’t cooked before. Then put something new on the table.