A fascinating recent piece in The Capital Times by Mary Ellen Gabriel delved into the Madison Public Schools' hot lunch program. Most parents have no idea how the district's centralized food service department manages to feed 19,000 kids on a minuscule budget. So it was truly educational when food service head Frank Kelly took Gabriel on a tour of the district's giant kitchen on Pflaum Road.
Kelly described the huge vat of cheese sauce, the assembly line where workers in plastic gloves assemble the tacos, and the stacks of cheap, canned peaches. ("Nutrient-wise, it's the same" as fresh fruit, Kelly said.)
Welcome to hot lunch. Many of the parents Gabriel quotes were appalled to discover the USDA-funded meal program serves deep-fried french toast sticks and syrup for breakfast and hotdogs and fries at noon. As people become more health-conscious, the ketchup-is-a-vegetable theory of school lunches is under increasing pressure from parents.
But Kelly has his own take on complaining parents - they are kindergarten moms who "really just don't want to give up control."
You have to kind of sympathize with Kelly. He is running an operation that has been in the red for the last two years. He comes across as a down-to-earth guy who's kind to his employees and practical.
"Kids gotta eat," he says, explaining why school lunch has to appeal to his "customers": kids who must inhale their food in as little as 10 minutes, while wearing coats so they're ready to bolt outside.
And you know what he means about those pesky parents. Food is a cultural minefield. The image of a bunch of soy-latte-drinking, Whole Foods-shopping suburbanites looking down on the folks who eat at McDonald's is extremely off-putting to a large portion of Madison's public school community.
Unfortunately, the nutrition issue is real. The epidemic of childhood obesity is evident on any given playground.
What doesn't meet the eye is the toll poor nutrition takes on learning. Kids whose diets are composed almost entirely of sugar, fat and refined flour are sick more often, have trouble paying attention and, increasingly, suffer from health problems once associated with a lifetime of hard living.
The Institute of Medicine reports that the incidence of obesity has more than doubled for preschool children and adolescents since the 1970s, and tripled for children ages 6-11. And the Centers for Disease Control says type 2 diabetes, once diagnosed almost exclusively in adults over 40, is a "sizable and growing problem" among American kids between 10 and 19 years old.
In response, Alice Waters, the famous chef who founded Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley, has been on a mission to get the Obama administration to address the woeful state of the USDA hot lunch program.
Waters - the goddess of soy-latte-drinking, local, organic, gourmet eaters - may be Frank Kelly's nightmare vision of an over-involved mom. But she has helped transform school lunches in Berkeley by adding local, organic farm products to the federally subsidized fare.
According to Waters, it would cost $5 per lunch for truly wholesome meals, compared to the $2.57 per child subsidy the federal government now pays for every free hot lunch served. This healthy lunch program would hike the feds' cost from $9 billion to $27 billion. Maybe Obama could tap some of the bailout money for AIG.
Meanwhile, there are some incremental steps worth taking now.
Wisconsin Homegrown Lunch, a UW-affiliated group, provides healthy snacks once a week for schools that raise the money. That comes to about $2,400 per year at my daughter's elementary school - for the entire school.
The program is an eye-opener. Every time I help deliver snacks, students run up yelling "Yay! Healthy snack!" and "Can we have more of that kohlrabi?" Maybe it's because the healthy snack is unusual and interesting, and there is no scolding "eat your vegetables" message attached.
Now, the USDA has launched a fresh fruit and vegetable program, funded by the Farm Bill. It provides grant money to schools to offer free fresh fruit and vegetable snacks to children in grade schools where 50% or more of students are eligible for free or reduced lunch.
The program allows schools to get healthy snacks to kids three or four times a week. For some kids, it's the only fruit or vegetables they'll eat. I can't think of a better investment in their well-being.
Ruth Conniff is the political editor of The Progressive.comments powered by Disqus
It may be a bigger waste of breath than electricity to ask my kids to turn off the lights when they leave a room. If I've nagged them once, I've nagged them a thousand times. No, I've never noticed anything amiss with their fingers. But it appears they are physically incapable of flipping a switch to the "off" position.
I want to say thank you to the Board of Education for allowing Maia to return to class, unquestionably the place she belongs, as well as to thank them for adopting the new policies. But just as importantly, I also want to thank Maia and her family for their willingness to come forward with their story.
Some clever-clogs is playing Rachmaninoff on the piano at a party, and there it is again, that oft-heard adult lament of lost opportunity from a dejected onlooker: "I wish I could play. I wish my parents hadn't let me quit music lessons. I was just a kid -- how was I to know?" It's a reasonable complaint.
If you're checking out summer camps for your child, there are many issues -- some obvious, some less so -- to keep in mind. Here's a list to keep handy when you contact camps and camp directors, looking for the perfect spot for your kids to have fun, relax, and learn this summer.
I know, in the grand scheme of things, that my kid issues, when it comes to dining out, absolutely pale in comparison to those of parents whose kids have special needs. Many kids, especially those who are on the autism spectrum, are disturbed by changes in their routine, or anxious around noisy places. They may not be able tolerate waiting for a table or standing in line. So unfortunately, many of these families just avoid eating out at restaurants altogether.
It's weird to admit this, especially in a city surrounded by as much outdoor beauty as Madison. But frankly, I'm just not that into nature. I'm more of an indoor kind of gal. Give me an afternoon at the Chazen or the Wisconsin Historical Museum over the Arboretum or Olbrich Gardens any day.
Lavish costumes, gorgeous sets, a full orchestra and a concession stand where nothing cost more than two bucks and you have a pitch perfect experience at the theater. Oh, and did I mention the ticket prices were just $10 dollars apiece? One could afford to take the whole family for a live theater experience for less than an evening at the Lego movie would cost including popcorn.
I think the first time in recent years that I've felt a real sense of shame, as both a parent and community member, was last Tuesday evening as I sat in a crowded elementary school LMC to listen to Ken Taylor, executive director of the Wisconsin Council on Children and Families, and his colleague, Torry Wynn, present key findings from the 2013 Race to Equity report to our PTO group.
It's Wednesday morning at Allis Elementary School on Madison's east side, and 16 third-graders -- 10 boys and six girls -- enter into an open-space classroom in typical wiggly, giggly style. Some are making goofy faces at one another, some are bouncing around hand-in-hand with friends, and others are just trying to stay out of the whirling-dervish path of activity.
Of the 789 poorly-composed, way-too-dark and out-of-focus photos currently living on my iPhone, I can count on two hands the number that show my kids and me together. And my husband is in probably no more than three or four of those.
Something kind of magical has happened these past two weeks during the Sochi Olympics. There is no question, debate or disagreement on what will be watched on television once all homework is done. Everyone in the family makes time to sit down together to watch an hour of so of the primetime televised games.
Truth be told, though, this month I'm feeling a bit cinematically fried. In some ways, I already feel like I've spent the last week or so at a film festival. A festival specializing in minute-long glimpses of ordinary lives all ending with credits that feature the ubiquitous blue thumbs-up. Yes, it's been the February of the Facebook movie.
Just last week, on precisely the same day the Momastery post was getting over a million well-deserved views, Madison mom Suzanne Buchko was telling a similar story. Not on a blog but instead in the confines of the modestly circulated Franklin-Randall Elementary School weekly newsletter.
Late last month, the Madison Metropolitan School District adopted a five-year, $27.7 million technology plan calling for all district students, including those in the primary grades, to have significantly increased access to their very own tablet or notebook computer by 2019. Some parents, as well as education professionals, questioned whether elementary-aged kids, especially kindergarteners who aren't even able to read or write yet, will gain much benefit from introducing yet another screen into their lives.
This past Monday, had winter's unrelenting weather allowed, Middleton Cross Plains School District teacher Andrew Harris would have once again been at the helm of a classroom. After nearly four years of fighting his dismissal from Glacier Creek Middle School for viewing and passing on sexually explicit material on district computers, MCPSD has been legally forced to reinstate Herris, this time as a seventh-grade science teacher at Kromrey Middle School.
In a study published last week by the National Bureau of Economic Research, academics have found that the 16 and Pregnant series may have played a significant role in the recent decrease in U.S. teen pregnancies.
In our house, sad but true, we've rarely spent the Martin Luther King holiday discussing race, social justice or the power of non-violent civil disobedience. Instead, the third Monday in January has historically been treated as just another day off school, just another long weekend. And it's been a missed opportunity.
It's not something that happens very often, but last Friday, as news of the impending arctic cold snap reached our house, my kids were rooting for Governor Scott Walker. They were rooting for him to take Minnesota Governor Mark Dayton's lead and cancel school throughout the state. They couldn't care less if he had the authority to do such a thing -- if he called off school, he'd be their hero.
Late last semester, as students were packing up their backpacks one final time before winter break, Middleton High School principal Denise Herrmann and assistant principal Lisa Jondle were co-authoring a note home to parents informing them of a widespread cheating scandal involving nearly 250 calculus students at the school.
Breathe in, breathe out. Have you ever been in the heat of a parenting moment with these words ringing through your head? Then you're on the right path toward mindful parenting.