Students Eating 'Junky' Food Is Better Than Not Eating at All

girls eating lunchPoor Jamie Oliver. The Los Angeles Unified School District, which the celeb chef worked with to come up with healthier alternatives for kids' lunches, can't seem to make their revamped menus work. The L.A. Times reports that "many of the meals are being rejected en masse." Principals report HUGE waste, with unopened milk cartons and uneaten entrees being thrown away. And students are even frequenting "an underground market for chips, candy, fast-food burgers, and other taboo fare." Wuh-oh.

In response ... L.A. Unified plans to ditch the fancy-shmancy quinoa salads, pad Thai, and vegetarian curries, throw up their arms in defeat, and bring back the old junk food, like hamburgers and pizza ... (Although administrators admit they'll still try to trick kids into eating pies made with low-fat cheese and whole wheat crust.)

Pathetic!! What the heck are they thinking?! The school district set themselves up to fail.

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This is basic, elementary. Who in their right mind just goes balls to the wall like they did, serving curry that looks and tastes like curry, or something as "weird" as Caribbean meatball sauce or beef jambalaya to young, inexperienced palates? Obviously they're going to reject it. There are tons of adults who would, too!

The adults in this school district have to put themselves in these kids' shoes instead of pretending they're designing the menu for a new Wolfgang Puck restaurant. Even the most refined foodies were once kids who probably picked at their plates and blew off anything that wasn't PB&J or mac 'n' cheese. Knowing this, they've gotta get creative. You have to be innovative when turning kids onto different fare than they're used to. Furthermore, here's a news flash: Junk food can be made healthier!! And kids will still eat it!

You know, they could hide tons of good-for-you veggies in a slightly creamy (low-fat milk vs. cream-based) soup in a bread bowl, or instead of tater tots, give 'em baked sweet potato fries with a sprinkle of cinnamon sugar, maybe opt for lean turkey burgers over fatty beef and serve it up on a whole wheat bun with a generous serving of fresh lettuce and tomatoes. It's not that hard. Even swapping out certain regular condiments that use high fructose corn syrup for organic can make a difference. (In a dream world, they'd give kids who wanted soda the kinds made with stevia, but I guess beggars can't be choosers.)

It was a valiant attempt to introduce international tastes to these students, but I'm not surprised it didn't work out. School districts may think they're being open-minded by offering kids tahini or Tom Yum Goong, but as we can see, they'll probably end up doing everyone from the kids to the parents to the taxpayers a disservice. Turning to ethnic, gourmet cuisine isn't the answer to making a dent in childhood obesity. Getting creative by healthy-izing the foods they already know and enjoy is.

Do you agree the L.A. school district seems to be having trouble striking a balance between two extremes? How do you "healthy-ize" junk food for your kids?

 

Image via U.S. Dept. of Agriculture/Flickr

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