Public school lunches need to change

To the editor:

As a parent of an Eastwood Elementary School student, I am deeply disappointed by the lunch menu. The Oberlin Schools are in a trial period with Sodexo as the food provider, and they should not renew without drastic improvements. Nachos and “Dutch waffle w/ chicken (AKA funnel cake)” are not acceptable lunch entrees for elementary school kids. That these have ever been offered indicates that quality food and nutrition are not a priority.

Even though nearly all these foods are processed packaged foods, the company has not created a database of ingredients. Children with food allergies are excluded. There is some nutritional information from them available online, but it does not list sugar and the sodium levels can be astronomical. The “chicken popcorn bowl” has 1,148 mg of sodium, which is 50 percent of the daily recommended sodium maximum for adults and 77 percent of the daily sodium maximum for African Americans. Further, a la carte snacks of ice cream and cookies and vending machines are readily available for all but the youngest kids.

Food companies have worked very hard to scientifically engineer perfect combinations of salt, sugar, and fat that replicate addiction in our brains. And our schools are directly in their crosshairs. Although I am fortunate enough that I can pack lunch every day, that’s not the case for everyone, and for some kids, this may be the best meal they get for the day. This is a lost opportunity.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Oberlin Early Education Center (for which I am a board member, full disclosure) completely turned around its breakfast and lunch menus over a few years. There is a plethora of national resources and models, as well as passionate local programs like City Fresh and the Oberlin Food Hub. All these could be tapped as resources.

Committees and individual parents have begun talking with the superintendent and the Sodexo representative, but promises seem small and change slow. We understand that progress doesn’t happen overnight. But there needs to be the desire and intention to work toward making this better, for our kids and for our future.

Emily Troiano