When I was a kid, in a sleepy Southern town long ago and far away, lunchtime was more than a kidfest of chicken nuggets and ketchup. It hadn’t yet evolved to the fast food extravaganza that many kids here in D.C. enjoy, but it was significantly better than my grandmother’s sandwich-in-a-pail option.
My school, like yours, participated in the free lunch progam.
Now, I wasn’t a direct participant in free lunch, so this isn’t going to be a heartwarming story of how free lunch was my only hot meal of the day, and the nutrition helped me grow up strong, or grow up, period, but I do want to remind us all that those words are cliche for a reason.
Hot lunch at the school cafeteria — whatever you think of its taste or quality — IS the main meal of the day for thousands of kids, and it HAS saved children’s lives.
So many kids out there don’t get enough quality, nutritious food to eat at home, for one simple reason — money.
They don’t get fresh vegetables at home.
They need nutritious, healthy food to eat, and they need it every day.
That’s where the school lunch program — which provides breakfast and lunch at free or reduced prices for kids who need it — comes in. It’s a simple fact of life in today’s world, and it may go unnoticed by many of us not in the schools every day, but it is a vital part of our nation’s safety net for kids.
And today, I want to celebrate the free lunch program.
Because I remember growing up in a sleepy Southern town, lining up for lunch with the rest of my class, and wondering why some kids carried little manila punch cards with them as they stood at the front of the line (always the front of the line!), to be marked loudly when the child went to pay. I remember the grateful look on their faces as the kids filled their trays with good food and walked to the table. I remember how we all laughed and talked loudly together over our food until the teachers, smiling, made us hush.
I remember when a kid in my class asked why some kids got those special envelopes on the first day of school, full of punch cards and stigma. I remember the teacher answering kindly, and then moving on to another topic. I remember being reassured that somehow, “the government” made sure that my friends and I got enough to eat.
And I am still grateful that there is this safety net for kids.
There’s a new web site out there that celebrates school lunch! Check out School Menu and its parental counterpart Family Everyday, two sites that work together with School Food Services Directors to provide and promote healthy eating and physical fitness for kids and their parents.
When PBN sent me the above links, I have to admit that I was intrigued. I spent some time on the sites, and there’s a neat feature that I was particularly impressed with — a hotlink to school menus in districts all over the country! Since big media like The Washington Post don’t cover such things anymore, this is an excellent way to check out the week’s menu and choose what days your kid will eat the cheese pizza or hot paninis … and avoid the “mystery meat.”
Do they still call it “Chef’s Choice?”