Buncombe schools can do better teaching our children to eat healthy

My son has just started kindergarten in the Buncombe County Schools system, and [he’s] loving it so far. I went and ate lunch with him for the first time today to meet his friends and to start to get a feel for the teachers and the general environment in his school.

He brings his lunch because he is [a] vegetarian and kind of picky, so he is not eating the school meals. It seems that the school system is trying to have some healthy, fresh options in [its] menu, but there is still a lot of processed food that is loaded with preservatives and fat.

I was most surprised to see children drinking blue slushies at lunch! This is very alarming to me, as I have read a lot about food dyes causing hyperactivity in children. Why would you want the children to ingest these chemicals and then try and go sit still and learn?

I am also curious about chocolate milk being a choice in the cafeteria. I hardly saw any children drinking white milk. Why would they, if they could choose chocolate milk or blue slushies? There seem to be a lot of overweight children in the school, and these items are just empty calories for them — not to mention the items on the menu like sausage-pancake-on-a-stick, corn dogs and chicken nuggets.

There are some healthy choices on the menu, and some fresh fruit and veggies, but are the children really going to pick these when the other option is something processed that looks more appealing to them?

I know that many people in our area are concerned about fresh, local, organic food, and it seems like the school system has some of that available. I am surprised, though, that Buncombe County is not more of a leader in helping to teach our young people how to lead healthy lives!

— Elsa Berndt
Buncombe County

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10 thoughts on “Buncombe schools can do better teaching our children to eat healthy

  1. Stewart David

    Good letter. How can we ever provide health care for all Americans if we eat so poorly? Feeding kids blue slushies is a form of child abuse.

    They shouldn’t be drinking milk, with or without chocolate.

    “There’s no reason to drink cow’s milk at any time in your life. It was designed for calves, not humans, and we should all stop drinking it today.”

    -Dr. Frank A. Oski
    Former Director of Pediatrics, Johns Hopkins University

  2. Asheville Dweller

    And I thought things were bad when I was in school, blue slushies? Wow they are not even trying anymore are they? Thats pretty gross stuff.

    Back in my day it was just Pizza or Frys or Pizza and fries how nutritional . . . .

    Im so glad I took my own lunch and ate at the school once in a while.

  3. leahmcgrath

    I applaud Ms. Berndt for taking the time to eat with her child and see first hand what is going on in the cafeteria of her son’s school. There are many entities in Buncombe County that are trying to improve nutrition in the schools and educate kids about better choices ; it would merit an entire article to describe them. To name just two: ASAP Connections & their Chefs Move To Schools and school garden programs and Healthy Buncombe and their initiatives for activity and videos to support making healthy eating choices.
    Meanwhile,the school lunch program has improved somewhat but one of the major roadblocks is how little money is given to schools to provide healthy lunches and balancing this with providing free and low cost meals to those who meet economic guidelines. Providing better nutritional options in school cafeterias can seem and often is more expensive than the lower cost processed items. It is a big problem that First Lady Michelle Obama has been tackling.
    While you can always pack your child’s lunch, this does not help the larger situation with his/her classmates. I encourage all parents whose children eat in the cafeteria to have lunch with their child occasionally. Join the PTO and talk to the school principal and the County’s Nutrition Director about your concerns and questions about school lunches and policies concerning snacks, sodas and food sold and given out in the schools, not just in the cafeteria.
    Leah McGrath, RD, LDN
    Ingles Dietitian

  4. Elsa Berndt

    I am honored that Ms. McGrath, from Ingles, is chiming in on this discussion. I have always been impressed that a mainstream grocery store like Ingles offers so many organic and natural options.

    I feel very strongly about healthy eating and children, and hope to help encourage some positive changes in our county. I am excited to hear about the groups that were mentioned that are already on that path, and am eager to join in. I hope that there are other families in our community who feel the same way and will help to take some action.

  5. lovefood

    My fifth grader is a Buncombe student, and has been for three years now. We moved here from a town in New Hampshire that has a meal plan that stems from the kind of thinking being promoted here. The food is boring. There’s no enjoyment in bean sprouts and tofu soup. Let them enjoy what they’re eating! They will have the rest of their lives to sing kumbaya, count calories, and make philosophical choices about whether to eat animal products or not. Why should they not be offered a choice between what you consider healthy and what you don’t?
    I have to wonder why little Johnny Berndt is a vegetarian. Did he make this choice himself, or was he forced into it? I think the first time that kid gets his hands on a good old fashioned American double bacon cheeseburger with a big ole side of greasy, delicious fries with melted cheddar cheese all over them, he’s going to realize that he’s been duped all of his life!

  6. UnaffiliatedVoter

    They’re used to JUNK FOOD outside of school, so why challenge them to eat healthy? Many of them are disgustingly fat already, results of lazy obese non structured family life.

  7. Susan Andrew

    @lovefood: Does ANY child make their early food choices for themselves–or are they all “forced into” their dietary habits, based on what their grownups eat and offer them?

  8. lovefood

    @Susan Andrew: Actually, my son was a “vegetarian” for about a year, in spite of us trying to encourage him to eat meat. He eventually got over it, however.

    I believe kids should be encouraged to eat healthy foods. They should also be encouraged to exercise and do other things to keep themselves healthy, but the daily dose of meat with some fat in it is not going to make them fat and/or unhealthy, as long as they’re balancing that with good vegetables and fruits to help work some of the undesirable byproducts out of their systems. It’s the way humans have been doing it for quite some time, as evidenced by our various types of teeth and digestive patterns.

    If kids are coaxed into thinking something is off limits, without the ability to choose for themselves, it only makes them want it more and rebel.

  9. PickyEater MeatLover

    School cafeterias are offering more healthy items these days than ever before. Having a child that eats school lunch, I am very in tune with what she takes in. The menu has vastly improved since my days in school where pizza, ranch dressing and french fries were a daily routine. The “blue slushies” are 100% juice with Vitamin C and Calcium and are approved by the Alliance for a Healthier Generation. I commend the local school food officials for making progress toward healthier items and still offering some stuff that the kids actually like!!

  10. w. dehart

    The fact of the matter is that school cafeterias are not subsidized at all and must sell ala carte items to remain profitable.They obviously need to sell items that the children want to purchase and enjoy. The products sold by the cafeterias are now under much stricter guidelines than ever before.Programs such as Eat Smart and the Alliance for a Healthy Generation have endorsed these “blue slushies” which are in fact 100% frozen juice and have 100% of the RDA of Vitamin C in a serving. They have the same amount of calories as a glass of orange juice. The problem stems from kids not being as active as generations before. Video games and computers have taken over and kids are not outside playing and being active like they should be.

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