Changing the frozen food industry that supplies schools in Sacramento is a beginning for this coming New Year 2012. Can you afford the price of lunch for your public school child in Sacramento? One problem today is affordability and availability of food. Can local farmers, especially organic growers, even afford to truck produce to schools or markets?
The real issue is about changing the frozen food industry that serves school districts. At least it’s a beginning there, where the frozen food is purchased to give to students. For example, now schools are seeing chicken nuggets breaded with whole wheat instead of refined white flour. But some kids are still being fed nuggets instead of nourishing stews.
And who’s asking where do the nuggets come from and how are they processed from farm to factory to school? Do kids want to know about school lunches and the nutritional information behind the food perhaps as part of a science class, cooking class, or out of curiosity?
It’s not only the federal government, but the higher cost of foods and fuels used to truck the foods to the schools that have caused the cost of school meals to rise. And that increase in price is dumped onto the kids (and the parents paying for school lunches daily).
For example, in Sacramento’s San Juan Unified school district, middle and high-school kids pay each day $3.25 for a school lunch. Elementary school kids pay $2.75 daily. You won’t find many elementary school kids taken on field trips from farm to factory to see how their school lunches are processed.
That’s a lot of money many parents can’t afford each day, especially if they have more than one child. Those not poor enough to qualify for free lunches or reduced-priced lunches are caught in a back-to-school dilemma.
Can families pack lunches daily and save more money than having kids eat at school? At least home-packed lunches can use specialized, more nutritious foods, if families can afford organic whole foods and fiber-rich breads. Will too many kids be priced out of food and go hungry even with the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act?
Can families plan a back-to-school lunch food budget counting on the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act?
Back-to-school students in most districts of Sacramento area public schools will be paying more for lunch, about a quarter more per meal, according to the August 4, 2011 Sacramento Bee article by Diana Lambert, “Back to school: Most districts will charge 25-cents more for lunch.” One of the reasons why kids will be paying more for school lunches is because they might be getting one scoop of generic brown rice instead of starchy filler white rice with their beef tips, as one Elk Grove school illustrates in a photo in today’s Sacramento Bee article.
Do parents ask where the beef comes from and whether the brown rice is organic or has been treated with pesticides? Of course, few ask those questions. Usually, parents simply slip an extra daily quarter into their children’s pocket.
One reason why the school districts in Sacramento and surrounding areas can’t use any federal money to help pay for the meals such as breakfast and/or lunch at least in part is the new Hunger-Free Kids Act
The Hunger-Free Kids Act prevents school districts from using federal money to supplement the meals of students not in the free lunch or breakfast program. So each family pays more for school meals. But how much better are the meals? See the article, [PDF] Child Nutrition Reauthorization Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act OF 2010. Also see the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act.
In December 2010, President Obama signed the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act into law. The President and First Lady have advocated strongly for passing the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. This bill, along with the resources and the powers provided under it, allow the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to be much more effective and aggressive in responding to obesity and hunger challenges for America’s kids.
Will kids now have access to healthy, balanced, nutritious school lunches? Not unless kids get access to organic produce and the families as well as anyone else finds out from where the meat originates and what processes are used to keep the food clean of pesticides and bacteria and fit for consumption by kids.
Will any average parent really find out where the food comes from and how it’s processed? On the other hand, the new ACT does increasing the number of students eligible to enroll in school meal programs.
The new Act is supposed to improve the quality of food served. On the good side, this legislation simultaneously tackles both hunger and the obesity levels currently affecting too many communities across this nation. But where does it start in Sacramento, with a scoop of brown rice instead of white rice or brown bread instead of white bread?
At least it’s a starter that in some districts brown rice is given instead of white rice. That’s more than you’ll find in most Sacramento eateries nowadays, with the exception of special restaurants that will give you brown rice if you ask for eat. And that means most fast-food eateries where children eat and some ethnic restaurants still use that starchy filler that soon turns to sugar called white rice.
For students not in the free lunch programs for needy kids, most other families who don’t qualify for the free food programs pay more, and that becoms expensive. The alternative is to pack a daily lunch. For working parents, it means packing lunches for several children the night before and letting the sandwiches go soggy in the refrigerator for many.
Try packing the ingredients separately. Put the dry bread in its own container or baggie. Then pack the spreads for the bread separately such as the salad that goes on the bread. Don’t put plastic knives in the lunch bag or box. Instead use scoops and spoons the kids can use to spread the salad and other fixings on the bread.
You also can pack a lunch with roll-up type of flat breads in one bag and little plastic cups or bags with a lid or zip-lock filled with chopped vegetables, nuts, seeds, or other foods to spread on the flat bread and roll it up. Then put whole uncut fruit such as an apple or banana in the bag instead of chips.
For drinks, forget the sodas and juices and use whole fruits. Use plain, filtered water to drink, for example, those little water bottles that already come with filters in the cup or bottle. For example see, Brita water cup filters | drugstore.com. You can now pack a lunch for kids or yourself and use a cup with a filtration system on top that filters water as you pour it into the cup.
Because food in school has become more expensive for students, families will be paying more. This will be the second increase in two years for San Juan Unified School District families. Talk about prices. That district approved an increase of 25 cents for breakfast, 50 cents for lunch and 10 cents for milk last school year. It added another quarter for both breakfast and lunch this school year. The increases, approved in 2010, were driven by rising food and labor costs,
The Sacramento Bee article also noted how Folsom, a Sacramento area suburb, saw food prices for school kids rise in a year. For example, Folsom Cordova Unified officials reported that the district would lose between $125,000 and $175,000 this school year if it didn’t increase lunch prices. But if you look at the area’s school districts in general, lunch prices have not increased for more than a decade.
Sacramento City Unified sold lunches at $1.25 for elementary school students and $1.75 for middle and high school students for more than 11 years and does not plan to increase prices this school year. Who did raise prices this school year in the area were Folsom Cordova Unified, Twin Rivers Unified , and Elk Grove Unified. Twin Rivers Unified added 25 cents to the price of lunch for its seventh- through 12th-grade students but didn’t increase the cost of its elementary school students’ lunches.
For parents who can’t afford school lunches each day, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act could increase the number of students eligible for the free lunch program. In fact, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will be pouring $4.5 billion into the national program in the next decade at the rate of a specified amount each year. But at least it’s not all about putting billions into the program.
With the new year will arrive the issue of who is going to set up new nutritional standards for all foods sold in schools, including vending machines and school stores? And when will it happen? Who will pay, and from where is the money coming? So will Sacramento vending machines on school campuses have healthier foods between now and the end of this decade? It’s still going to take a few years to change the school foods to the way parents and nutritionists would like.
Kids in Sacramento area schools are still getting pizza and wraps. But the whole wheat crust pizza still will cause a rise in blood sugar just like the white flour will. See, Whole Wheat Bread Causes Blood Sugar Rise. Whole wheat and white bread have essentially the same impact on blood sugar. It’s similar to eating sugar when you eat a slice of whole wheat bread or pizza crust made from the same ingredients as whole wheat bread because most bread has a high glycemic index.
What kids really need is bread or pizza crust designed to be low in carbohydrates, made of sprouted legumes, for example if you want kids on a lower-carb diet. The type of bread or pizza crust you want is a type of specialty bread or crust that substitutes more fiber for the starchy part of the wheat.
You also have kids who take their lunch because they need gluten-free foods. But in general, whole wheat flour is much more nutritious than refined (“white”) flour. If you tolerate sugar well, choose the 100% whole grain bread –- it has more fiber and all kinds of nutrients. But are kids being served whole grain pizza crust and bread or whole wheat bread that is colored brown with caramel coloring.
You need to find out whether it’s really whole grain bread. For example, the district serves wraps, pizza with 51 percent whole wheat crust, teriyaki bowls with brown rice, and hamburgers on whole wheat buns, among other foods. You do have variety. But on a budget, how much nutrition is affordable? Kids are not complaining about the food that much.
Kids have to be given nutritious foods to make those foods familiar when they are young. Healthy food is easier to serve to younger children than to those already on other foods for years. If the brown rice is served in elementary school, as it is now, by the time the kids get to high school, they won’t have developed the habit of eating white rice. At that point they can be told since early childhood that white rice is a cheap, starchy filler that turns to sugar and then to fat in the body.
The average Sacramento parent may not be able to afford to pay for school lunches for children, particularly if they have several children. In Sacramento’s San Juan school district, if you have a child in elementary school, a child in middle school, and a child in high school, that means each day you pay for each child’s lunch $3.25 for your middle school child and $3.25 for your high-school age child.
Then you have to pay $2.75 for your elementary school child. So, an average family with three kids needs to have a school lunch plan. Either the school has a system where many children in one family can eat cheaper or you pay for each child daily, which the average family probably is not going to afford, especially if one parent is out of work due to the economic situation.
And other school districts in the Sacramento area are cheaper, but not by much. For example, Twin Rivers Unified school district charges $2.50 daily for lunches for middle and high-school students and $2 daily for elementary school students. El Grove Unified school district charges $3 daily for middle and high-school students and $2.50 for elementary school students. Folsom Cordova Unified school district charges $3 for middle and high-school students and $2.50 for elementary school students.
Natomas Unified school district charges $3 for middle and high-school students and $2.50 for elementary school students. The least costly school lunches are served in the Sacramento City Unified school district where middle and high-school students pay only $1.75 daily for school lunches and elementary school students pay only $1.25 daily for school lunches.
You’re not going to see a rush of students trying to get into Sacramento City schools just to pay less than $2 for daily school lunches. Would it cost more in travel time and fuel to get there, even though student bus passes would cost the same each month?
A nightmare scenario would be a rise in school lunch prices as frequent as a rise in college tuition taking place. But that hasn’t happened as school lunch prices usually rise once per decade.