Educating our future lean adults

Friday, September 22, 2006

Officials are cracking down on what students eat at school.

You have no idea what memories this brings to mind.

School food has always been a particular passion of mine. Some folks write cookbooks. I could write a collection of the best meals I've eaten at school from first grade through college.

When one of our sons was in about the second grade, his mother and I were honored to be class parents for one of the monthly celebrations to mark academic achievement and birthdays. We were expected to provide treats.

I don't know about you, but as far as I'm concerned a treat isn't a treat unless it has sugar in it. Sure, carrot sticks and tofu wrapped in lettuce are good for you. But how often do we choose to eat them? And if the class mom and dad showed up with vegetables for a party, what do you think would happen?

I am, to this day, proud of the treats we devised. Using sticks of gum, Lifesavers, Tootsie Rolls and rubber bands, we assembled 30-some confectionary facsimiles of a World War I-era biplane.

Looking over the list of banned foods in local schools, I can see we would probably be banned as class grandparents.

Gum? No.

Lifesavers? No.

Tootsie Rolls? No.

Rubber bands? Maybe. But they're not sweet.

When I was a first-grader, I went to a one-room school. Everyone brought a lunch, some in cleaned-out lard pails, some in paper sacks and some in genuine Roy Rogers store-bought lunch boxes.

Store-bought. That was my school lunch. Inside my lunch box with Roy on one side and Trigger on the other was a Wonder bread sandwich filled with sliced lunch meat, some Oreo cookies and a Thermos of Kool-Aid or maybe chocolate milk.

My classmates usually had heartier lunches made from scratch: biscuits with sausage, fried meat and cornbread, fried apple pies, an occasional piece of chicken left over from Sunday's dinner.

My store-bought food and their homemade food created an opportunity to learn the finer points of bartering. I could usually get a biscuit with sausage for four Oreos, for example.

When I went to high school, the lunchroom served government commodities, especially ground beef, cheese and peanut butter. As a result, I didn't know that you could eat chili without cheese and a peanut butter sandwich until I went to college. I don't know why anyone would want to, but you could.

In college, the cafeteria served three meals a day. Once a month the cafeteria had a dress-up night when you were expected to wear a coat and tie to dinner. The cooks would lay out a smorgasbord with all kinds of specially prepared food. The Sunday noon meal was another culinary delight.

Those of you who know me can see the result of all these school meals. Some of the pounds I'm carrying around today have been with me since first grade at Shady Nook School over yonder in the Ozark hills.

I am a walking advertisement for why officials are doing students a favor by setting some standards for the nutritional value of the foods allowed at school.

If schools are successful in instilling good eating habits, the adults of the future will be healthier and less prone to obesity-related illnesses.

But they won't be able to describe the overwhelming pleasure of sinking your teeth into one of Mrs. Atwood Brown's homemade cinnamon rolls, which could be had for half a bologna-on-white-bread sandwich.

R. Joe Sullivan is the editor of the Southeast Missourian.

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