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So angry, I asked for my $2 back!

This morning was "Breakfast with Mom" day at my daughter's school. I admit that I held no high hopes of what constituted breakfast at an American public school. Nevertheless, I went.

The smells of the cafeteria brought back memories of my time served at the lunchroom of the elementary school in Oregon, a small town outside of Eugene. Occasionally I'd have to eat food from the cafeteria. I'm not sure why I didn't always have lunches from home, but the experience was not pleasant and I'm sure it had something to do with my dislike of veggies later in life - particularly spinach. I disliked drinking milk - still do - and was forced to show the lunch ladies, by shaking the little carton while standing in line to dump the lunch trays, that I had indeed drank all of the milk. Sometimes I'd stuff the spinach inside of the little milk carton.

Saffron was excited to have me drive her to school in the little car - the only time this year she's not had to take the bus in the morning. I asked her what the agenda was for this breakfast. "I don't know. I didn't make it up", she replied. I thought that maybe the school wanted to do something nice for the moms. Then I saw we had to pay for breakfast: $2 for an adult breakfast, $1.35 for a child's breakfast. Hesitantly, I paid. I agree, it's not a lot of money, but somehow I knew it wasn't going to be the "special" breakfast I thought it would. As we walked into the school cafeteria, I was instantly overwhelmed by those exact smells I remember from childhood.

Looking around at all of the moms with their children, I glanced at the contents of their plates. My jaw dropped as I walked forward in the line as if paralyzed. 1% milk, chocolate milk, and apple juice were the first to greet us. Then I spied corn dogs, pancakes, toast, cinnamon rolls at least 5" in diameter, Cocoa Puffs, "All Natural" pancake "syrup", and fruit on top of the counter that looked more of a decoration. Saffron took some milk and two pancakes. We grabbed the syrup but I explained to her that it was not real - not like the pure Vermont syrup we buy that comes from actual trees. I'm sure most kids would be surprised to find out that real syrup comes from the sap of trees. The only reason I took the plastic tube of syrup was to analyze the ingredients: "Corn syrup,...Artificial Flavor, Sodium Benzoate,…Cellulose Gum”. That is what they feed the kids?!

As we walked through to the end of the line, I asked Saffi to grab an orange. I had no intention of eating anything that was being served, so when we walked to the cashier to hand over our tickets I asked if she could refund me the $2 for my meal. The cashier explained to me that she'd put the money on my daughter's account. Account? "My daughter does not eat at school", I replied sternly, meaning that my daughter brings her own food. Sensing that I was on the verge of creating a scene, she swiftly opened the cash register and handed me the $2.

I know. It's only $2 you might be thinking. That's not the point. If the school's intention was to raise money, say so. Ask for donations, just don't ask me to jeopardize the health of my daughter. I wish I would have fed my daughter her usual weekday breakfast of toasted Seeduction bread with butter and honey - real honey.

This entire experience reminds me of the few episodes I saw of Jamie Oliver's attempts to change the minds and views of a school board in Los Angeles in regards to the food being served in those schools. In the end, it comes down to educating your children about their food choices and what it means to choose wisely. It's about teaching them to cook from an early age and making sure they know the difference between natural food and processed foods. Take them to a local farm and let them see where foods originate.

P.S. to all of the food bloggers out there: Keep doing what you're doing and don't stop. Infiltrate Twitter streams with your ideas for healthy breakfasts, lunches, and dinners. Oh, and the occasional desserts are always welcome!

Reader Comments (12)

Truly shocking. Is this a public school? You should become an activist!

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterGinny Felch

"Shocking" is the right word for it. Yes, it's a public school and am wondering what it will take for change to take place. Thank you for the link!

March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatalija Brunner

Do not be surprised !!! You would fall over if you toured the schools. Most meals at my son's school are so ridiculous. Today is cheese steak/French fries. Never fresh fruit, if it us served it looks like it was thrown into the fruit bowl according to my son. They just added yogurt . You might say that's great ! However I think it is along the lines of Trix yogurt. No fresh veggies of an kind are served. No salads or salad bar. What's up with this ??? Even when I was in school we had two lines one was the daily special line, which was a true meal like at home. You might not like what was being served but it was BALANCED. The other is what I call the fast food line.deli type items. Salad bar in the dining room. After spending 25+ plus years in food service mainly in schools and colleges I must say I worked for a company that provided a very good program to the schools it serviced. I just have come to the realization that I will be packing a lunch for 8 more years !!!!!

I love reading and seeing what you post !!!!

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLynn stallone

A special breakfast should include treats, just like a birthday has birthday cake. I imagine the child was embarrassed by her mom's behavior.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternansaki

I forgot about the "yogurt", Lynn. I also saw a huge bowl of what I assume was sliced tangerines. Packing lunches is the only way to go if you want to ensure your children are eating a healthy and balanced meal. Thank you for understanding the importance of this oft overlooked aspect in our children's lives. Nutrition should be one of the greatest concerns in the well being of our children.

March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatalija Brunner

These lunches are lousy food but unfortunately, there is no easy solution. Most schools can't afford the staff, facilities or insurance to actually cook food and rely on large vendors, which typically win bids and serve low quality food. I've read of a few schools trying to cater more to the community only to find items such as curry aren't on the approved list and can't be purchased with federal funds. Add that in my opinion most people don't eat very well at home and so don't notice this is lousy food and you end up with a problem that is difficult to change. I'm not saying stop trying - don't do that - it is just an involved problem.

It continually amazes me for how screwed up our schools are considering the money America has and how people consistently list good schools for their children as their primary concern. Really sad.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Robert, I wholeheartedly agree. It's not an easy solution and one I fear will never change with all of the politics involved.You're right, things need to first change at home so that children understand the difference between healthy and unhealthy foods. Education is really the key but sadly I don't see this changing anytime soon.

March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatalija Brunner

TRIX yogurt? Cotton candy flavor? I couldn't believe it. I looked it up and people are celebrating that Trix has removed high-fructose corn syrup and switched to all natural ingredients. Well, here are the ingredients so you can judge for yourself:

cultured pasteurized grade a lowfat milk, sugar, modified corn starch, kosher gelatin, natural flavor, potassium sorbate to maintain freshness, colored with vegetable juice, turmeric extract, beta carotene, vitamin a acetate, vitamin d3.

I've made yogurt. It has 2 ingredients. Milk and an active culture. Add some fruit if you want it sweet.

I feel bad for the people who think they are feeding their kids something healthy but the people I have seen defending this yogurt, well, good luck to you.

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRobert

Breakfast candy, as my husband calls it. Now that is a food crime.

The closest to decent store-bought yogurt we get is from Brown Cow (Cream Top). The plain version also has 2 ingredients: cultured pasteurized milk and pectin. The vanilla and maple ones have some sugar and maple syrup and are the kids' favorite. The ones with fruit on the bottom are also not bad but I believe that I'll have to attempt to make my own with fresh fruit.

There has to be an easier way to make a noticeable change in the public school systems around the country - both in food and the quality of education in general. Any suggestions are more than welcome.

March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatalija Brunner

I wasn't sure if you were aware of the Let's Move Movement... So I found the link for you Natalija :-)

Let’s Move! is about putting children on the path to a healthy future during their earliest months and years. Giving parents helpful information and fostering environments that support healthy choices. Providing healthier foods in our schools. Ensuring that every family has access to healthy, affordable food. And, helping children become more physically active.

Also this... Michelle Obama, Rachael Ray bringing Let's Move! to Clinton, Mississippi...

Maybe you can write a letter or something to the Let's Move Organization and get something going in your area too !!!

March 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterWinnie Peric

Winnie, thank you for the link. The problem needs to be addressed at home first, I agree. The other issue is that government needs to start allocating more attention and money to the education of food and healthy eating at school. If kids are not learning that at home and at school, they will know nothing better. Writing a letter sounds like a good start.

March 21, 2013 | Registered CommenterNatalija Brunner

This is not about you or the food choices you prefer for your child. It is about the time spent with your child. I agree with nansaki who commented "special breakfast should have treats". No wonder she doesn't ask you to drive her to school. She is probably afraid you'll make a scene and embarrass her.

March 23, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHot Mama

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