Here is a copy of a letter I sent this morning to my middle school
principal, Frank Kelly (Food Service Director), Lucy Chaffin (Wellness
Policy Chair), and the entire Board of Ed. I am furious!!
Slushies with school lunch?
Thanks to the miracle that is a la carte lunch, middle school students
can choose from one of the fast food-type selections offered daily
(typically pizza, hot dogs, a processed chicken product, or
hamburger), served with french fries. They can also choose chips, 2
separate desserts, giant soft pretzels, and—newly ready for service at
O’Keeffe Middle School—slushies.
Keep in mind this is in the middle of a school day filled with the
business of learning: sitting, listening, focusing. And keep in mind
this is in the middle of a tremendous growth spurt for kids.
What are we doing to our kids? Why are we setting them up to fail—
academically, and nutritionally?
I have a theory on how this could happen, despite a beautifully
conceived (and federally mandated) Wellness Policy in 2006:
–The Wellness Committee, which meets annually, was charged with
recommending criteria for “added sugar content.” So far no
recommendation has come forth. The topic was yet an unresolved agenda
item in their February 22, 2010 meeting.
–The Wellness Policy further defines that middle and elementary
schools will not have school stores or vending machines. However,
nothing is mentioned about cafeterias. They are apparently given full
right to sell garbage that would not be included in a high school
vending machine. The beverage list approved for high school vending
sales “includes milk, water, 100% fruit juice and specific sports
drinks and eliminates all soft drinks and fruit beverages with less
than 100% fruit juice.” Slushies just don’t seem to fit in to vending
machines, so the district sells it a la carte.
–The district’s budget crunch has added pressure to find revenue. At
$1.00 per 9 ounce serving, which the O’Keeffe food service worker I
spoke to estimated costs $0.32 to make, selling sweet slop to our
middle school kids looks to be a great income source. Food Service is
simply tapping into the same marketing that has assured the success of
Twinkies, Coca Cola, and Hersheys: sugar sells, and kids want it big
time. In the struggle between a chef’s salad or a slushie, the
slushie wins the sweet tooth every time.
And this can be a student’s lunch, every day. There is no “nutrition
police” making sure the money parents send to food service is spent on
a balanced diet, if such a thing is even possible with the a la carte
choices. The consequence is a school environment that widens the gulf
between those who are physically ready for an education and those who
are not. Of course, there are the longer-term effects that our
country knows well: diabetes, obesity and heart disease, to name a
The fact that the slushie machine appeared at O’Keeffe Middle School
during National School Lunch Week seems to me a defining moment in the
district’s food policy. Frank Kelly, Director of Food Services,
assures parents he wants to serve nutritious food but feels bound to
offer what the kids want (as if these are opposite menu choices). It
seems to me he is willing to offer whatever will help the bottom line,
nutrition be damned.
I spoke with O’Keeffe’s food service worker, Karen, about how the
slushies came to be. It was not requested by the school, but was
introduced from the main kitchen with machines rented from Badger
Popcorn. Slushies are also offered in two other middle schools,
although O’Keeffe is the only one with elementary students also using
the cafeteria. Will these younger students be able to purchase
slushies? She wasn’t sure. She was fairly certain, however, that the
slushies would take away from the sale of other beverages offered to
students: juice, water, and Powerade. It’s a classic example of the
empty calorie food that the Wellness Policy sought to prevent.
I would expect to find slushies at the convenience store or a ball
game. But as part of a school meal’s blessing—I am appalled. This
does not help our kids observe, learn, or practice the kind of
nutrition that feeds a growing body. This is teaching them to fail.
Followup: I’ve already received a response from O’Keeffe’s principal, Kay Enright, who seems similarly outraged especially since she is working on getting a grant for one of Ann Cooper’s Lunch Lessons salad bars. In fact, when my daughter told me about the slushie machine she said it was RIGHT AFTER the principal had spent the morning polling each classroom about how popular a salad bar would be. It’s got to be frustrating for her to see this backward slide.