Originally posted on the Wishfit Blog on October 19, 2012

Oh, how I wish this post was all about how Garrett dipped into his hard-earned allowance money and treated me to lunch at saaaayyy, Linger in Denver. I’d start with the meze plate, then move on to a crispy lentil salad and a chicken b’stilla, and wash it all down by drinking water while pretending it was a ginger collins. 

Instead, I’ll tell you about the lunch I shared with Garrett at school last week in honor of National Take Your Parents to Lunch Day. It was no five-star meal, but it wasn’t terrible either.

The official Take Your Parents to Lunch Day was Wednesday, October 17; however, Garrett didn’t have school that day, so I chose my own day for our lunch date. Did you know most schools welcome parents for lunch any time? Even if you have a good grasp on what the school lunch menu includes, I urge you to join your kid for the actual lunch experience. I found it very eye-opening. 

The menu on the day of my visit included a choice of: 

  • 100% beef hamburger or cheeseburger on a whole grain bun with baked fries and orange slices 
  • veggie burger on a whole grain bun with baked fries and orange slices (all three burgers had an optional add-on of lettuce and tomato) 
  • mandarin chicken salad with spinach and romaine lettuce, mandarin oranges, chicken and apples 
  • turkey and cheese sandwich on a whole grain Goldfish sandwich thin with green beans and a cherry cup 
  • salad bar with whole grain roll and chopped ham on the side 

Garrett chose the salad bar with roll and chopped ham and a carton of non-fat chocolate milk. I did not encourage or influence this decision in any way. Promise. 

I chose a non-fat chocolate milk. Yum. Do you know how good non-fat chocolate milk is? 

I had planned to eat a real meal, but I was having a bad baby belly day, and by the time I got to school, my appetite was pretty much gone. 

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by the quality of the food and the abundance of choices. A few things I noticed: 

  • By the time Garrett stood in line, purchased his meal and sat down at his table, he had about 15 minutes to eat before the signal to finish up and head out for recess. Some kids scarfed their food while others barely touched it. Garrett scarfed, and even then, he wasn’t really finished by the time lunch was over. He told me that technically he could stay and finish his meal, but then he would miss recess with all of his friends. No wonder he’s so desperate for food when he comes home from school. 
  • Overall, the atmosphere in the lunch room was pleasant – the adults were friendly and the kids seemed happy. 
  • The cafeteria workers were nice and seemed to know many of the kids by name.
  • A surprising (to me, at least) number of kids chose the mandarin salad or veggie burger. 
  • There were no junk-food extras available for purchase. The kids said maybe once a week there are chips or candy available but not every day. 
  • The fruit and veggies seemed fresh and appetizing, and many kids really did eat them, though I noticed almost no one chose to add the lettuce and tomato to their burger. 
  • The lunch room monitors turned the lights out to signal the end of meal-time and quiet the room. Damp dishcloths sat on each table, and the kids were required to clear and clean their table before being excused to go outside. I thought this was a nice way to transition from lunch to recess, and I liked the added responsibility of clean-up duty. 

I know area school districts are making an effort to offer healthier and more appetizing food to students, and I was pleased with the results at Garrett’s school. I think they are doing their best to strike a balance between quality ingredients and food that kids will actually eat. I also appreciate that I can get detailed information on each meal option on the school’s website; therefore, allowing me to make a more informed choice about when and if I let Garrett buy lunch. 

My biggest concern was the lack of time students had to eat, and the fact they often have to choose between filling up or playing outside with friends. While I don’t have a good solution for this problem, it was helpful to realize the time constraints Garrett faces, which will influence the lunches I pack for him in the future. 

While my experience was positive, I think there is a wide variance from school to school. My cousin, who has a young daughter (G) in a different local district, described a much different experience based on her two recent visits. 

Just like at Garrett’s school, the overall lunch menu was fairly healthy and well-rounded, though there was a basket of chips and other junk food available for purchase right next to the register. The atmosphere, however, was a vast contrast. While the kids at Garrett’s school were largely left alone by the lunch monitors, at G’s school they are very, shall we say, interactive. According to my cousin, these women have a somewhat intimidating presence and spend the short lunch time constantly shushing the kids, directing them to “eat your main first” and making them do a little chant to quiet down. The kids are bombarded with announcements like, “Stop. Your beverage should be open. Stop, open your beverage and take a drink.” 

Sounds like a recipe for indigestion to me. 

According to my cousin, it’s a stressful environment, and the idea that the adults are instructing kids what and when to eat is distracting at best. “They keep telling the kids, ‘eat your main first,’ but if it’s a crappy main, with fruits and vegetables on the side, I’d rather her eat the fruits and veggies and eat less of the main.” 

Clearly each school has its own approach, and I’m sure they are all trying to do the best they can with the resources they have. Still, I think that changes for the better are always possible and much more likely when parents are aware and involved. 

If you’d like to figure out how you can help or just want to relive your old lunch room days, make a lunch date with your kids. Yes, it feels a little weird going through the lunch line and sitting at small tables while your kids’ friends tell you random facts, but it does make a difference. Even just that one small chunk of time gave me better insight into Garrett’s school life. 

Check out the National Take Your Parents to Lunch website for some helpful resources, including what a lunch tray should look likequestions for your food service provider, and what goes into school lunch. If you live in Colorado and want to be more informed on the topic of school food, visit LiveWell Colorado for information and ideas.