Sunday, April 14, 2013

A Mind Is A Terrible Thing To Snack On

My children attend public school. They are regularly given candy “treats” for completing basic tasks and good behavior. When taking the PSSA tests, they are given chewing gum because, they are told, it makes them concentrate better. Or more better. Or betterer. "It's good for you!" my daughter reports, dutifully echoing her teacher. 

They are bombarded with fliers sponsored by food companies selling books and, well, food. Mostly candy. The official reading program is sponsored by Pizza Hut which gives coupons for a free pizza if you read enough books. My daughter tells me that the school busses have fast food logos inside them.

Meanwhile, they get 20 minutes for lunch, which includes getting to and from the cafeteria, lining up for food, eating it and clearing up. My kids take a healthy packed lunch but often trade items from it for junk food from the cafeteria. The school’s food is shipped in by the same company that supplies sporting venues and prisons.

The K-5 lunch menu features these items (with alternates):

Monday: Meat Ball Hoagie (Toasted Cheese Sandwich)

Tuesday: Cheese Filled Bread Sticks (Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich)

Wednesday: Pizza Crunchers (Deli Sandwich)

Thursday: Hamburger (Toasted Cheese Sandwich)

Friday: Breaded Chicken Strips (Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich)

Pizza Crunchers are “a breaded cheese item…with pizza sauce on the side so there’s virtually no mess.” A full half the calories in a two-piece serving come from fat. There are 210 calories in two pieces. Most kids actually eat five pieces (although some eat up to ten). That’s 525 calories (225 calories from fat). 1000mg of sodium. 61 grams of carbs.

The Cheese Filled Bread Sticks are a bread stick filled with cheese. They come in a packet of two (even though the company says a serving size is one stick). Kids usually get two packets; that’s four sticks. That means they are consuming 840 calories total. That’s 252 calories of fat.

The Marinara Dipping Sauce which accompanies the breaded cheese items (kids can have as many packets as they like; most get two) provide another 90 calories (and a lot of sugar). Half of the kids also get ketchup.

All of this is before the additional sides, dessert, and drinks. And it’s only lunch.

The Smuckers Uncrustables Peanut Butter and Jelly Sandwich doesn’t even pretend to be anything other than a product you can gum, because the selling point is that it doesn’t have even a crust. What it does have is a mind-boggling amount of carbs, and — importantly — can be eaten without the need for cutlery, as is everything the school serves. What you really don’t need when eating any of this food is teeth — and with the amount of sugar in each and every item on the menu, these kids might not grow up with teeth, so I suppose it’s good they get used to not needing them.

Anna Lappe’s TED talk gets to the heart of the problem with truly disturbing facts (check out how many cans of Coke you have to drink to “win” a plastic playset for your school!). I mean skool. Sorry, Skule. Actually, Tuck Shop.

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