Monday, March 15, 2010

Under Cover School Lunch

I can't wait for Jamie Oliver's Food Revolution. A sneak showing of "Food Revolution" will air Sunday, March 21 at 10 p.m., right after a new "Desperate Housewives."

A teacher in Illinois is eating school lunches for a is her blog.|htmlws-main-n|dl3|link3|

She's fed up. An Illinois teacher is eating school lunches for a year in solidarity with students she believes aren't offered healthy options in the cafeteria.

Blogging anonymously at, the instructor has already suffered a few bellyaches in the name of her endeavor. She began eating -- and documenting with her cell phone camera -- the less-than-appetizing school lunches this January and quickly started gaining thousands of readers per day.

The teacher, who refers to herself as Mrs. Q, told AOL Health that even airplane meals taste better than the ones in the school cafeteria and that she is eating them to prove a point. The children at her school come from low socioeconomic brackets, and she estimates that 98 percent of them eat hot lunches, mostly for free or at low cost. The meals, she said in an e-mail, "are overly processed and contain very little 'real' food," such as fresh fruit.

"I am not a nutritionist. That being said, I became concerned about what the kids were eating because on the surface, the food doesn't appear to be very healthy.

"These are the kids who need the good nutrition," she added. "My students don't have good food models at home. These kids depend on the school for so much, including good nutrition. And if they don't get it, they will develop bad habits and increase our health-care costs in the future."

Nearly one fifth of U.S. children are obese, according to the Centers for Disease Control, and research has cautioned that those kids could have shorter life spans because they are too heavy. Moreover, the obesity epidemic is blamed for the increasing numbers of children diagnosed with type 2 diabetes, a disease historically seen mostly in adults.

rib-b-queFirst Lady Michelle Obama recently took on the issue of school meals as part of her new Let's Move campaign to curb childhood obesity. Some 31 million kids get federally funded lunches at school, and 11 million eat breakfast there, according to the Obama administration. With many kids getting about half their daily calories at school, a goal of the campaign is to reduce the amount of sugar, salt and fat in school meals, and to increase whole grains, fruits and vegetables. Under the proposed Child Nutrition Act, the federal government would allot an additional $1 billion a year for 10 years to help schools improve the nutrition of meals. The program currently costs about $15 billion annually, according to the PTA.

Mrs. Q said she is not affiliated with the Let's Move campaign and was keeping her identity a secret out of concern for her job.

"I'm worried about any possible backlash exposing the school lunches might have for me personally and professionally," she told AOL Health, after agreeing to answer questions anonymously. "I want to continue working and I also don't want to get anyone in trouble."

Mrs. Q has laments the short window kids at her school have to eat. She estimates they have 13 minutes at best, five at worst (after taking into account waiting in line, finding a seat and using the bathroom).

She also worried about the safety of the food -- especially after one inedible peanut butter and jelly graham cracker sandwich kept her in the bathroom all night.

"I'm having more stomachaches these days," she said. "It's not every day, but at least once a week I just don't feel very good."

She added that she has a history of irritable bowel syndrome and couldn't be sure the bellyaches were from the school meals.

"I can't place it," she said. "Keep in mind that I eat organic and healthy outside of work so it's not like I'm suffering. What is hard for me to think about are the kids who rely on the school for the best (or only) meal of the day and they get hot dogs, processed meat products, fruit cups with high-fructose corn syrup, etc."

chicken nuggetsOn her wish list: A salad bar, soups, casseroles, and stir fries, which she told AOL Health could be cost efficient if they're made in bulk. She said yogurt and cottage cheese could make for healthy side dishes, and she would nix tater tots in favor of roasted potatoes. She would also eliminate hot dogs, packaged foods and Styrofoam. On the plus side, she said most bread products at the school already appear to be whole wheat.

Mrs. Q appears to teach at an elementary school. While she described the students there as "pretty young" to AOL Health, she told the blog Small Bites that students eating the meals range from 4 to 11 years old. And though she is eating -- and blogging -- in their interest, the project is causing her some anxiety.

"I feel a lot of guilt and turmoil about what I'm doing here," she wrote on February 18. "I'm waiting for the moment I'm called to the principal's office and let go. I do believe it's a matter of 'when' not 'if' they find out and it's curtains for me and then of course the project.

"I want them to know that the project is not about individuals in one school but about a country full of children who need better food models."

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