Should We Thank Healthy School Lunches for Better Behavior?


When I was younger, I used to wonder how my mom could wake up early every morning to make my entire family breakfast, pack us all homemade lunches, and work a full-time job. I always thought, “I could never do this. I’d rather sleep.” Now that I am older, I thank my mom for taking care of us and I know that I will do the same thing – I just can’t risk my family eating artificial, processed foods several times a day (there’s the health coach in me!).

I remember the number of kids who didn’t have breakfast when I was in school; I wondered how they functioned. I was hungry a little while after I grudgingly woke up for school – weren’t they? The difference between the food that my mom made for me and the food offered at my elementary, junior high, and high schools was vast. My lunches weren’t perfect, but at least I had fresh fruits and vegetables every day; I remember having sandwiches, salads, and fruits for lunch while many other kids had pizza, burgers, fries, soda, and other fat-laden, sugary, processed foods. In high school my teachers always dreaded teaching class right after lunch – everyone was half asleep!

When I talked to my parents about school lunches, they told me that even though my mom made me breakfast and packed a lunch for me, I once requested that I be allowed to eat the school lunch. I saw the other kids chowing down on junk food and I wanted to be allowed to eat the same thing as my classmates (gasp!). My parents agreed and I tried out the school lunch. I was about 8 years old. Apparently I came home on the first night that I ate this school lunch and told my mom that I never wanted to eat it again because the meat was grey and gross! Sadly, I also got sick and my parents do think it’s because of the bad meat that I ate. My mom continued to make my lunch and my parents didnt mind that they had already paid for an entire quarter’s worth of food. I am eternally thankful for this particular thing that they did for me and I want to make sure that children and young adults who are eating school lunches have healthy options.

1. We Think Better When We Eat Healthy Food

It’s true that if we eat fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains we will be able to focus better. Why? These foods are blood sugar stabilizers and we will not have sugar highs and then come crashing down, which is what happens when we eat refined sugars, flours, and artificial, processed junk food. No wonder my classmates were falling asleep after lunch – they had just had a feast fit for Superbowl Sunday – how could they focus? It’s best to load up on fresh, healthy food and skip fatty burgers, fries, and shakes. This is especially true when you want to focus and think better – and who doesn’t want these things?

2. Violence and Misconduct Decreases When People Are Fed Better

Barbara Stitt is the Co-owner of Natural Ovens Bakery; she was a probation officer for over 20 years in Ohio and she says that, “correcting the food corrected the behavior” of people she worked with from the courts. She took this knowledge and worked with Appleton Central High School, which is located an hour from her bakery in Wisconsin. With her help, the high school eliminated trans fats, refined sugars, refined flours, and foods with artificial colors and flavors. She replaced the fast food that students were having for lunch on a regular basis and she got rid of vending machines. Instead, students are now enjoying a salad bar, real juice with concentrated omega-3 fatty acids, fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains. What’s shocking is that Appleton High hadn’t had a kitchen in 7 years! Thankfully, this has changed and students continue to enjoy the benefits of a healthier diet. Tom Almendarez, a former student says, “For me, it makes me feel like I have a better attention span. I don’t feel like I’m tired all day.” In the first two years of these amazing changes, Appleton High was able to cut $5 million out of its operational budget because there was significantly less vandalism, litter, and violence. Barbara explains that the food they brought in to the school was the food that was mandated by the U.S. government in 1946; this consists largely of fresh fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and Barbara Stitt made sure to also include legumes, nuts, seeds, and water.

In the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine’s 2004 national school lunch report card it states, “Schools such as Central High…have noticed tremendous, health, behavioral, and learning benefits.” Indeed, Appleton’s drop out rate went from 10% to less than 1% after they switched to this healthier menu.

3. The Benefits of Healthier School Lunches Gives Hopes to Other Schools

Other schools have followed Appleton’s lead; in Olympia, Washington, schools have real juice, organic salad bars, and students enjoy local produce. In Des Moines, Iowa, schools now have fresh fruits and vegetables and students have access to an unlimited supply of these foods – most of which are gone before the end of the day. In Los Angeles, Monroe High School has shifted to healthier school lunches and saw a 74% decrease in violence within the 1st year of its program. Students asked for a salad bar and their wish was granted!

If you are packing a lunch for your kids, that’s wonderful; be sure to include water, fresh fruits, vegetables, and some whole grains. If your children are eating school lunches, check to make sure that they are offered a healthy selection of food. If not, get involved and see how you can make a change. Need encouragement? Check out these resources:

Want to learn how you can transform your diet and lifestyle so you can focus more, weigh less, and look your best? Do you want to make sure your kids are on the right track to staying healthy and fit? Join me for a free initial consultation so we can get started on your wellness journey!

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