All Is Not Well In Lunch Lady Land

I remember as a kid relying on our nation’s school lunch program. I was among the “free lunch” kids due to our household income, or lack thereof, and sometimes this was the only substantial meal I had each day. After my mother’s failing health, which resulted in her losing a pretty well paying job, our finances fell off a cliff. Somehow during the Reagan administration those trickle down economics didn’t seem to trickle all the way down where we ended up, at the bottom. Whether my mother was too proud to ask for help, or whether there just wasn’t help available (a story for another time), school lunch was a vital part of my daily nutrition.

At the time, I remember my best friend’s grandmother working in the cafeteria of our elementary school. She would often give him a ride to school in the morning and he’d sometimes be hanging out in the kitchen with his grandmother until I’d stop by so that we could walk to class together. What I distinctly remember was that all of the men and women preparing the daily lunch occurred with great pride. I overheard conversations about how a particular dish needed to be just right, otherwise it wasn’t going to be served.

Regardless of Adam Sandler’s “Lunch Lady Land” parody, and the budget cuts they endured at that time they were still able to prepare something other than what you might find in today’s school lunch. We hear about budget cuts all of the time, but seriously, my grandmother could take 3 or 4 key ingredients and whip up some kind of amazing dish.

This was even before farm-to-table or organic was trendy. It’s just the way it was. Maybe this was a generational influence and I’m naive, but where is this same pride today to want to create something nutritious and appetizing to put on the table.

As a childcare health consultant, part of my job is to provide education and support to children, families, and staff members about nutritional health. It’s actually one of my favorite topics to speak about. So, you’ve probably heard about the new school lunch standards implemented as a result of First Lady Michelle Obama’s anti-obesity campaign.

Whether as a parent of a child in public school or as a nurse consultant in school settings, there’s definitely a strong opinion about this program. Social media platforms are chocked full of individuals sharing their displeasure (probably the nicest way to put it) about why more than 1 million children have left the school lunch line.

According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO) released a wide-ranging audit of the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act, finding 48 out of 50 states faced challenges complying with The First Lady’s program.

As featured on Twitchy, these kids have taken to social media to let anyone who’s out there on the InterWebs know that this is essentially unacceptable.




I think this is a situation where we can make the case that less is not actually more, but rather a lot less. This is not sustainable nutrients by any means and I can’t imagine it fueling any aspect of a child’s day, except for an overwhelming sensation of wanting to take a nap.

By the looks of some of these lunches we may have overcorrected the course a bit. I agree that we need to minimize exposure to simple sugars. Of course don’t get me started about the milk situation. When I’ve questioned why we continue offering sugary artificially flavored milk it’s always met with the same response: “The majority of kids won’t drink milk unless it’s flavored.”

Great response. So, what you’re saying is that we need to help build strong bones to carry all of that extra weight they’ll likely put on by consuming those simple sugars they’re not able to burn? Now you’re making sense. Maybe we should start sprinkling powdered sugar on their broccoli so they will be sure to eat that as well.

In all seriousness, it should go without saying that good nutrition is a major building block of the foundation that supports a child’s ability to learn and perform the physical activities that occur throughout the day, and even during after school activities.

I realize that school nurses are already spread so thin as it is, however this is just another situation where we need to make a case to the various school boards to increase our presence in these districts. If a full-time nurse isn’t in the budget then this may be a great nurse consulting opportunity out there for some of you in business. It’s unfortunate that our school systems have made so many cuts that health and safety is an afterthought. I believe Michelle Obama’s intentions are good, however the implementation of this program seems abysmal.

Let’s actually get back to making an investment in our kiddos’ health and wellness for the long term. Setting them up for success isn’t optional and streamlining the current ingredient list we’re offering them needs to be re-evaluated. There are still many students out there (like myself at the time) who rely on these school lunches as a staple, and if we fail them I feel certain it’s too easy to predict the variety of ailments we’ll be treating at a much greater cost of finances, resources, and lives.




  1. elizabeth scala on April 16, 2014 at 10:53 am

    Wow, great great post, Kevin. I am fascinated by the images. And not a bit surprised. Lunch foods at schools are sort of like the crap we serve patients at hospitals. Food literally becomes our body’s cells. How can we expect people we want growing/healing (children/patients) to do so when we give them things that aren’t even nutrients at all? Thank you for shedding light on this topic for everyone out there finding this post. I will share as I believe this is such a valuable topic.

  2. innovativenurse on April 16, 2014 at 10:58 am

    elizabeth scala  Couldn’t agree more on what we serve patients in the clinical settings. It’s not going to fuel much of a rehabilitative process.

  3. WorldNursingJob on September 26, 2014 at 1:15 am

    This is quite alarming, everybody should be concerned by this kind of setting in schools. Parents should be wary about what their children are consuming.

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