Thursday, January 13, 2011
During elementary school I can't remember ever waiting in the cafeteria line, smacking my lips with excitement at the prospect of eating hot lunch. Now I'll concede that since I ate hot lunch 99% of the time, it's possible I was simply jaded, and had become numb to the wonders of cafeteria cuisine. But somehow I don't think so. During third grade I was really into chocolate milk for a while, but then one day I took a big swig from my little brown carton and tasted big lumps of rancid milk. I elected not to have a beverage with my meal from then on.
Apparently times have changed.
When I was teaching English at BYU one of our required texts was Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation and as a class we watched Morgan Spurlock's documentary Super Size Me, both of which rail on the dissatisfactory hot lunch situation in American elementary schools. Apparently hot lunch has evolved to the point that it not only tastes good, our kiddos are turning into fatties because of it. Now as much as I'd like to give Mister Schlosser and Mister Spurlock full credit for turning me against hot lunch, I think my personal bias had strong foundations relating to that unfortunate chocolate milk incident. You can imagine it would be hard to come back from that sort of unpleasantness.
The problem with packing a healthy, wheat bread and yogurt sort of lunch for my daughter each day is that she sits at the same table with all the soon-to-be-fat kids who are gorging themselves on mac n'cheese, popcorn chicken bites, and pizza. Her deprivation is a very real and serious thing...or so I'm told about twice a week. So I finally compromised and agreed that she could have hot lunch every Thursday, on pizza day. A couple of weeks before Christmas I sent a twenty dollar check to school thinking that at $2.50 cents a pop, we were good to go for hot lunch every Thursday until February.
Yesterday my daughter came home with a note saying her hot lunch account was delinquent by $2.10. I paused and scratched my head. Are you buying other food? I asked her. She gave me that tentative, innocent little smile that very clearly says, "It's probably best if I play dumb here." I walked over to her and squatted down. "Did you use up all your lunch money?"
"Well," she started in her most informative voice. "After we finish lunch we're allowed to buy snacks like cookies and stuff if we want a snack later on." I see. So not only are we getting sucked into the new and improved hot lunch vortex, my seven year old now has a free pass to use her lunch money at her own discretion purchasing "snacks" for later on in the day.
I informed her that the natural consequence for blowing twenty bucks in two weeks on cookies is that she doesn't get hot lunch until February. She gave me a stiff nod, and walked away, shoulders slumped. It was a cruel, unfeeling punishment, I know. But on the bright side, I'm sure they will just continue to improve hot lunch menus as time goes on, and invent new ways to turn our unsuspecting children into sugar and corn dog crazed fat kids.