This morning was "Breakfast with Mom" day at my daughter's school. I admit that I held no high hopes of what constituted breakfast at an American public school. Nevertheless, I went.
The smells of the cafeteria brought back memories of my time served at the lunchroom of the elementary school in Oregon, a small town outside of Eugene. Occasionally I'd have to eat food from the cafeteria. I'm not sure why I didn't always have lunches from home, but the experience was not pleasant and I'm sure it had something to do with my dislike of veggies later in life - particularly spinach. I disliked drinking milk - still do - and was forced to show the lunch ladies, by shaking the little carton while standing in line to dump the lunch trays, that I had indeed drank all of the milk. Sometimes I'd stuff the spinach inside of the little milk carton.
Saffron was excited to have me drive her to school in the little car - the only time this year she's not had to take the bus in the morning. I asked her what the agenda was for this breakfast. "I don't know. I didn't make it up", she replied. I thought that maybe the school wanted to do something nice for the moms. Then I saw we had to pay for breakfast: $2 for an adult breakfast, $1.35 for a child's breakfast. Hesitantly, I paid. I agree, it's not a lot of money, but somehow I knew it wasn't going to be the "special" breakfast I thought it would. As we walked into the school cafeteria, I was instantly overwhelmed by those exact smells I remember from childhood.
Looking around at all of the moms with their children, I glanced at the contents of their plates. My jaw dropped as I walked forward in the line as if paralyzed. 1% milk, chocolate milk, and apple juice were the first to greet us. Then I spied corn dogs, pancakes, toast, cinnamon rolls at least 5" in diameter, Cocoa Puffs, "All Natural" pancake "syrup", and fruit on top of the counter that looked more of a decoration. Saffron took some milk and two pancakes. We grabbed the syrup but I explained to her that it was not real - not like the pure Vermont syrup we buy that comes from actual trees. I'm sure most kids would be surprised to find out that real syrup comes from the sap of trees. The only reason I took the plastic tube of syrup was to analyze the ingredients: "Corn syrup,...Artificial Flavor, Sodium Benzoate,…Cellulose Gum”. That is what they feed the kids?!
As we walked through to the end of the line, I asked Saffi to grab an orange. I had no intention of eating anything that was being served, so when we walked to the cashier to hand over our tickets I asked if she could refund me the $2 for my meal. The cashier explained to me that she'd put the money on my daughter's account. Account? "My daughter does not eat at school", I replied sternly, meaning that my daughter brings her own food. Sensing that I was on the verge of creating a scene, she swiftly opened the cash register and handed me the $2.
I know. It's only $2 you might be thinking. That's not the point. If the school's intention was to raise money, say so. Ask for donations, just don't ask me to jeopardize the health of my daughter. I wish I would have fed my daughter her usual weekday breakfast of toasted Seeduction bread with butter and honey - real honey.
This entire experience reminds me of the few episodes I saw of Jamie Oliver's attempts to change the minds and views of a school board in Los Angeles in regards to the food being served in those schools. In the end, it comes down to educating your children about their food choices and what it means to choose wisely. It's about teaching them to cook from an early age and making sure they know the difference between natural food and processed foods. Take them to a local farm and let them see where foods originate.
P.S. to all of the food bloggers out there: Keep doing what you're doing and don't stop. Infiltrate Twitter streams with your ideas for healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Oh, and the occasional desserts are always welcome!