Asking Duval County Public Schools to Step it Up: Lunch Program Problems.

Step it up: Unmasking the Duval County Public School Lunch Program Problem

The United States is currently seeking to aid an obesity epidemic that has become increasingly prevalent in the Twenty-First Century.  We already know that more than one-third of adults were declared obese as of 2011-2012. The unsettling fact is that these statistics do not merely exist for adults, but for our youth as well. By the year 2012 a startling 17% of children and teenagers were found to be obese and 31.8% were either overweight or obese.2 The childhood obesity rates have nearly tripled since 1980.3 Schools nationwide have begun a fight to curb the increasing childhood obesity rates by implementing new school lunch programs in their cafeterias, as they should. However, it’s come to my attention that while the many changes that counties are trying to implement have good intentions, their execution of such programs are not without flaws. Duval County Public Schools are no exception to this. Here’s a few major mistakes they’re making when it comes to the implementation of their school lunch program.

They’re overstepping. 

School came back into session last week for Duval County. Amongst the stack of paperwork we received from the school there were PTA forms and plenty of information on student release protocol, vaccination availability, and new student dress code. Nowhere to be found though, was the list of rules and regulations for packed lunches. I say rules and regulations, because it became immediately apparent to me after I picked Riley up from school on his first day that there were some. At home he informed me that the reason he did not drink the apple juice I had packed him earlier in the day was simply because ‘he was not allowed.’ He was told he was not allowed to drink an eight ounce bottle of no-sugar added, natural apple juice. He was given milk instead.

Now there are several reasons this is so bothersome to me. In my opinion, schools have every right to regulate their own sale and distribution of food and drink, but I do not feel as though they have the right to regulate the type of foods we include in our children’s lunch boxes. This is a blatant infringement on the rights of parents to make decisions for their children and completely undermines such decisions. When a school staff member tells a child that he/she can not eat something their own parent packed for them- it essentially gives the child the impression that their parents are wrong.

I am personally a huge advocate for healthy eating. If you took a walk through my kitchen you’d see that I purchase some of the best quality and nutritious foods for our home. I plan our meals together ahead of time. We very rarely eat out and I value the concept of nightly dinners as a family. As someone who has an increased risk for obesity and diabetes due to my genetic pool, I take nutrition seriously. As I have said before in previous posts, although Michael and Riley may never have to worry about becoming obese because they do not share the same genes as me, I still take pride in keeping them healthy and teaching Riley important life skills regarding his health and making positive food choices. However, he’s six years old and I have no intention of becoming some sort of food police in my home. I see nothing wrong with the occasional sweet treat or indulgent snack. Kids get excited for things like that. And that’s normal. So I see nothing wrong with packing Riley a juice in his lunch box, especially since I am the one who is regularly monitoring what he eats and knows the most about his health and nutritional habits.

Although I don’t agree with schools regulating what parents pack their children, I do understand how hard it may be to implement rules for students whose parents who do not pack their lunch whilst lunch-taking students can eat whatever parents give them. We could begin to un-blur the lines together if schools would keep parents in the loop. Which leads me to the next flaw in the system…

They’re not keeping parents informed.

At a MINIMUM parents should be kept informed about school lunch programs and policies. And I’m not talking, post it on the county website and hope parents become curious enough to dig for the information themselves. Of all the information sent home with us during school orientation, no lunch program information was provided for us other than a notification that his school was still a part of the Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) program (In other words, “We still provide free lunch.”) If Duval County Public Schools do insist on dictating what I can or can not pack in my child’s lunch, at a minimum they can provide me with documentation about what is or is not allowed. Even after a thorough search of Duval County’s website, I am still unable to find any document containing this information.

Did you know there’s an app where you can view information about what your child’s being served at school each day, as well as the nutritional content of each item? I didn’t! Not until I read an article released by the News 4 Jax team. Although this information is nearly a year old, it would still be great to know coming into the new school year.

There’s too much information that parents must dig and dig for and still too many unanswered questions. What exactly is the current lunch program in effect at Duval County Schools? The most recent documentation I’ve found (online) dates back to 2014 and only contains information about how schools will no longer be participating in food fundraisers.  The disappointing reality is that our school system is failing to keep us adequately informed.

Their execution is poor. 

How many kids do you know who would choose to eat a chicken caesar salad over a slice of pizza? Or a thai chicken noodle bento box over beef and cheese nachos? I personally don’t know many. These are real school lunch options and I love the idea of providing kids with healthy options for lunch, but we have to rethink. When we put the salad next to the pizza and ask a child to choose, the pizza slice is going to go on the tray every time. There has to be a better way to pair items so that kids will choose the healthy option.

While the school does not provide students with things like chips and sugary drinks for free through their CEP program, they do offer items a la carte. Some of their a la carte menu items include chips, Pop-Tarts, Rice Krispie Treats, and cookies. So we are now telling kids that their parents cannot send them to school with certain items, but if they purchase items from the school, its okay to eat them! It’s confusing and a little condescending!

They’re not meeting non-lunch related health requirements.

Parent’s everywhere are beginning to notice Duval County Public School’s failure to meet the state mandated requirement for 150 minutes of physical activity per week. This means that recess and free-play time isn’t happening. Students are now spending more time behind the desk in their classrooms, and less time outside, despite state requirements. It hardly seems fit to have such extensive school lunch requirements only to be denying children of the mental break and exercise time that recess provides. Surely our school system knows that a sedentary school day is certainly no way to promote a healthy lifestyle and is definitely not going to aid in diminishing childhood obesity.

It’s well known that just 60 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity per day decreases the likelihood of childhood obesity. This standard is strongly supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). If schools were really so concerned about the health and livelihood of our children, they would make it a point to get our children outside.

Developing a healthy school lunch program is an amazing way to make a difference when it comes to the future of our children. But Duval County Schools cannot continue to step on the toes of parents, keep them uninformed, and poorly execute said programs. It’s important that we all work together to tackle the ongoing issue of childhood obesity. It’s not a problem that solely develops at home or at school. It’s a problem that forms from a combination of the two. The school board and parents need to be able to communicate openly without any monopoly. It’s about more than abiding by state mandates and government guidelines. It’s tackling an important issue together for the sake of student’s futures.

Have an opinion on the issue? I’d love to hear it in the comments below!

If you’re interested in becoming a part of the initiative to get our Duval County students outside, get involved on the Recess for DCPS Facebook Group! To read more about the issue head on over to Elizabeth Ross’ Open Letter to Superintendent Vitti and the DCPS School Board!

 

 

Sources:

1 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of Obesity among Adults: United States, 2011-2012. NCHS Data Brief, 131, 2013.

2 Ogden CL, Carroll MD, Kit BK, Flegal KM. Prevalence of childhood and adult obesity in the United States, 2011-2012. JAMA, 311(8):806-814, 2014.

3 Fryar CD, Carroll MD and Ogden, CL. Prevalence of Overweight, Obesity, and Extreme Obesity Among Adults: United States, Trends 1960-1962 Through 2009-2010. National Center for Health Statistics E-Stat, 2012.

Stephen R. Daniels, MD, PhD, FAAP, Sandra G. Hassink, MD, FAAP, The Role of the Pediatrician in Primary Prevention of Obesity, PEDIATRICS Vol. 136 No. 1 July 01, 2015

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