Wednesday, September 15, 2010


My kid - the one IN school, as opposed to the other two - goes to a school that has A Balanced School Day, which means that instead of having old-fashioned "lunch" at noon, she has two "nutrition breaks" at 10:35 and 1:00. Instead of having two short recesses and a longer lunch hour, the kids now get two short recesses immediately following the "nutrition breaks." One of the big pluses for this new system is that it saves time - having fewer recesses means that the children waste less time struggling into and out of winter clothes - AND classes can now be longer. Because if there's one thing that's important, it's making children more time-effective!

Bah, I say. And also phhbbppph.

Every parent I know loathes the horrible Balanced Day, and that is because it makes packing actual school lunches next to impossible. We were sent home a cheerful handout describing a week's worth of Healthy Nutrition Break Suggestions, like this:

Nutrition Break 1#
1. A slice of homemade zucchini bread with some low-fat cream cheese.
2. A small container of steamed edamame.
3. A peeled and sectioned organic tangerine.
4. Half a tuna sandwich (although every school in town has a fish ban).

Nutrition Break 2#
1. A low-fat yogurt.
2. A homemade oatmeal cookie.
3. Carrot sticks with homemade hummus dip.
4. Cubed Edam with whole grain crackers.

Now, I AM a stay-at-home mother, and I do like baking. But that is a LOT of baking - and this being a low-income area, I seriously doubt that little kids are coming to school with their lunchboxes full of organic fruit, edamame (and REALLY, soy is such a highly allergic food. 2/5 of my house can't go anywhere NEAR it), and expensive cheeses. ALSO, most little kids have a limited palate of things they like to eat at lunchtime, and it's very hard to stretch that limited palate over 2 school day meals.

There is one kid in my kid's class who gets lunches like that (and it is NOT my kid) and the other kids just get their regular old lunches, which they can then "balance" themselves as best they can (my kid "balances" her lunch by eating all of the dessert-y things as soon as she gets to school), or they get DOUBLE the same old crap (like the kid who gets TWO Lunchables a day. Two!).

There's probably some sound nutritional principles at work, but to me, it feels more of cheeseparing with the kids - let's shave off nearly a half hour of outside time a day and tell parents that it's FOR the kids. And while we're at it, let's turn the simple PB&J, apple and cookie lunch into some impossible piece of performance art (you might want to switch to a part-time job, since this is going to take a while.).

(My mother - who was a teacher - COMPLETELY disagrees with this post. She says that there are lots of benefits to the balanced school day. Benefits I do not feel obligated to list, because this is MY post.)


  1. A nightmare! I have a 17 yo who is still a chore to pack for. I know I could have him do it himself, but I like the idea of packing his lunch for him, even when I have no idea what to pack. Two lunches a day would just about do me in.

  2. One of the elementary schools in our town sent home a list of "acceptable" snacks which include Wheat Thins, Ritz Crackers and Goldfish. Mmmmm, a little sodium perhaps? And what's with the brand promotion?

    While I think kids should be able to have a mid-morning snack, what's wrong with lunch?

    This has nothing to do with your complaints, but why a fish ban? Totally confused by that.

  3. Our school has the same time break-down re eating but they don't call it a balanced day. I try to get most food groups into the lunch box but b/c we're vegetarian and allergies are a major concern in her class, the protein part of her lunch is a major challenge for me. Never mind the economics of it, my kid only likes expensive cheese. (It makes me batty, actually. I can't give her a cheese sandwich but she will eat aged white cheddar cubes, or feta w/ black olives. Grrr.) As you know, I am not Ms. Fancy-pants Lunch Lady. Double grrr. If I am not cubing cheese, I sometimes pop a bunch of chick peas or kidney beans in a snack sized serv'n'saver. Thankfully, she'll still gobble those up plain.

    Mostly, though, I give her a handful of nuts with her breakfast and then make sure she washes her hands and face thoroughly before she walks out the door.

    As for reduced time playing outside, do they not recognize the benefits of active play on growing minds and bodies? Oh right, they do but they only use that argument when they are scaling back bus routes.

  4. Oh, I can answer the fish question: a lot of kids have severe allergies to fish and seafood. In my daughter's class, there is a child who has anaphylaxis to nuts, tree nuts, fish and all seafood. He also has severe allergies to eggs and about a dozen or so other common foods (apples, pears, stone fruits, citrus...).

  5. Our school does a regular lunch time and then “snack time” around 2PM. In kindergarten, (Lucy’s class) the children all take turns bringing in the daily snack. Suggestions to bring in are bread and butter, muffins, crackers, etc. In first grade, where Bud is now, we are to pack an extra snack in their lunch bag (and hope that they don’t eat it before) for snack time.

    I guess there could be benefits to the balanced program, but it seems like kind of a pain in the neck. And then what happens when the children are at home and expecting these mini-meals? And how does the child carry such a volume of food to school?

    This seems like it would be hard on a working parent too. I am all for my kids having a balanced and healthy lunch, and I slap one together for each of my kids every single morning. One involving a sandwich, fruit of some sort, a cracker-y or cookie type snack (extra snack for Bud) and a drink. That is all I am good for at 6am, man.

  6. We pack a lunch and then one snack a day. It's also "fun" to work around since things like Sun Chips, which are sorta-kinda healthy as chips go, are OK to sneak into the lunch bag but are not allowed as a snack in the classroom (I have a feeling more of it is a clean-up problem than a not-healthy-enough probem!). They only get the one recess--after lunch--which makes me very sad. The kindergarteners usually never get to go outside since they are only there 2 1/2 hours. :-(

    Another elem school in the district got a grant to start cooking/serving ultra-healthy lunches in their schools. There are parents HOPPING MAD about it (and going to some rather extreme measures to get themselves heard). I can't understand the issue as I guess that they also offer alternatives for the kids who refuse to touch the healthy stuff. And frankly, if your kid doesn't like what's being served that day, then they should pack--it's not as if they're being force-fed the healthy stuff!

    I agree that most of the school-cooked lunches need some help. It's very unappetizing and not particulary healthy. (But neither are the lunches I pack!) (But I'm working on it!)

  7. The balanced day does not really offer much outside play time. Before it was introduced the spin was that it would result in more but 20 minutes twice a day (minus time to put on outside clothes?) Does not compute. It must be the new math.

    I find that my kids eat more (!) with the balanced day (they call them "nutrition breaks" here). With a regular two-recess-one-long-lunch day they might have one morning snack, one afternoon snack and a regular lunch (sandwich, cookie, piece of fruit). I find with the balanced day I am packing them 3 things for each break and it's not enough! They come home complaining that they are still hungry. Which fine, okay, I will pack you an extra banana or yogurt. But wait! You don't like yogurt in your lunch because it isn't cold enough? And what's that? Your banana gets all mushy and you won't eat it?

    Wait! I just had an epiphany. Perhaps the true problem with this whole lunch thing is that my kids are princesses. :)

  8. Janet: if our kids weren't princesses we wouldn't need this blog. What I'm learning from this blog is that everyone's kid is a princess in his/her own special way.

  9. At my kids' school there is a lot of pressure to reduce the amount of waste and packaging in their lunches, which is twice as difficult when you have to pack everything twice - two Ziploc bags for two half-sandwiches, assuming that you can wedge everything in to the two-part lunchbox. Until milk starts, I'm also sending drink boxes, but in that case I send only one and hope they use their water bottles for the second. Drink boxes are allowed, but I get the sense they are frowned upon.

  10. I don't mind the balanced day. Food-wise, my kids take 4-5 items plus a water bottle and they buy milk at school. So today, for example, they have a thermos of chili, whole wheat crackers with sliced up cheddar, a plum, carrots and a homemade cookie. They decide how they want to divide it up, but I think they just eat the snacky things (fruit, cheese & crackers, etc.) and milk in the morning and the more lunchy things (chili, vegetables, cookie) in the afternoon.

    My friend's kids' school has a policy that you can't bring in any homemade baked goods due to allergy concerns. That would make me flip right out.

  11. I so don't fit in on this blog (see: kids who eat school lunch + ask for cookies for snack), but I followed Beck's tweeted link.

    My responses, in no particular order:

    1. I've never heard of a fish ban, but I guess it MUST be common. (Then again, here in Georgia, USA, they still serve peanut butter and jelly as a lunch choice.)

    2. REDUCING to two recesses? Again, here in GA, where the weather is mild and perfect for going outside at least in winter, my kids get ONE recess. 20 minutes. My 5th grader's is scheduled as the LAST activity of the day. So it gives her a "break" from... what? Is this a USA thing? (Only recent tho. I grew up with 3+ recesses per day.) Maybe it's a US regional thing. (I grew up in California.)

    3. Your kids EAT? My kids spend their lunch time talking and playing. I know because I've watched when I visit. Most of the school lunch goes right in the trash. (Probably a correlation between goofing off during lunch and NOT ENOUGH RECESS.)

    So anyway, HEY y'all! Nice to "meet" you. Thanks for letting me drop by. :)

  12. This is why I love you Beck: (My mother - who was a teacher - COMPLETELY disagrees with this post. She says that there are lots of benefits to the balanced school day. Benefits I do not feel obligated to list, because this is MY post.)