A valueless campaign

Nov. 13, 2010, 5:06 p.m. | By Melissa Haniff | 13 years, 7 months ago

As I sat down in advisory this past Thursday, my teacher began handing out colorful and somewhat enticing flyers. They caught my attention immediately and I began to read the flyer to find out what it was advertising. To my amazement, it was a marketing ploy by the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE) to get students to buy school lunches. "Did you know…it's cheaper to buy a school lunch than to pack one from home with the same nutritional value?" the flyer read. I began to laugh loudly, thinking to myself, "This couldn't possibly be true."

Students received flyers from the Maryland State Dept. of Education in advisory on Thursday. The flyers advocated for the sale of school lunches and promoted their nutrition.  Photo courtesy of Melissa Haniff.

The flyers advertise healthy school lunches that "contain twice as much fruit" as a lunch from home. But let's be honest. When buying food in the lunch line, fruit is neither endorsed nor encouraged by the cafeteria staff — it is up to the students themselves to pick up and purchase the fruit. Not only do most students not purchase fruit with their meals, but they also tend to purchase fries, cookies or chips instead. With these options more prevalent than the fruit options hidden in the mini-fridge case, the likelihood that students will actually eat the fruit to which the flyer refers is minimal. School lunches also have vegetable options available for those who choose to add it on as a side choice, but it's rare that students go for the veggies, which is also due to the fact that no one promotes vegetables as an alternative for fries or chips.

According to the MSDE flyer, the National School Lunch Program helps to provide public school students with nutritionally-balanced meal choices daily. The MSDE and National School Lunch Program's (NSLP) websites claim that the meals served to students throughout Maryland, including in Montgomery County, offer students at least 33 percent of a student's Recommended Dietary Allowance (RDA) of protein, calcium, iron and vitamins.

However, it is a bit ridiculous to think that the lunches provided to us are actually healthy, especially when the students are not being directed to the healthy choices that actually are available. The "hot" food items are usually pretty unhealthy, but considering that they look (and taste) better than the supposedly healthier items; it's not surprising that many students would go for a meal of orange chicken over a dry-looking sandwich. At least at Blair, the flyer's suggestion that it is healthier to buy lunch than to bring your own from home does not seem to apply at all.

The flyer's suggestion that it is cheaper for students to buy lunch than to prepare one of equal nutritional value at home also seems highly unrealistic. The MSDE/NSLP website states that a school lunch costs an average of $2.08, while $3.43 would the cost of making and bringing in a bagged lunch. Here at Blair, the cost for a school lunch is $2.75 for students who do not have reduced lunch and 40 cents for those that do. While buying a school lunch might benefit those who receive free or reduced lunch, it does not give much advantage to those bringing a lunch from home. Not to mention that if a student were to bring a lunch from home, it is less likely that they would bring something like a cheeseburger and fries. Considering the nutritional value of the average school lunch, it is safe to say that the lunch from home will almost always be more worth it for the student.

School lunches are an integral part of the public school education system, especially to those who cannot afford to continually bring lunches from home. But while the information presented the MSDE and NSLP flyers may have made sense on paper, they failed to factor in reality. Just because the healthful options exist doesn't mean that they are actually reaching students, especially when hidden behind a plethora of junk food. If more effort was made to make nutritional lunches reach kids, those who rely on school lunches would be able to eat both healthy and delicious options.

Melissa Haniff. Melissa loves music, One Tree Hill, traveling and experiencing new cultures. She is also a diehard Patriots, Red Wings, Pistons and University of Michigan fan...Go Blue! More »

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