School Lunch

Do your kids eat school lunch? Do you pack their lunches? Feel free to share your thoughts with me about what you do and why. Here is an article I wrote on the topic for our local paper, The Laguna Beach Independent.


published September 10, 2010
Laguna Beach Independent
You might have read that the U.S. Senate approved the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, which allocates $4.5 billion to feed more children and bring more healthful nutrition standards to schools. Would it surprise you to know that $4.5 billion equates to only six cents more per child per day? Current reimbursement rates give schools $2.68 for each lunch they serve, and this amount has not changed much since 1973. The money will help, but we need more – more money, more parental interest, and more creative solutions to the midday meal.Ann Cooper, known as the “Renegade Lunch Lady,” has the right idea. She was an executive chef for high end hotels and resorts who became interested in school lunch reform when she was researching and writing her book, “A Bitter Harvest: A Chef’s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers in the Foods We Eat and What You Can Do About It.”Cooper’s groundbreaking work directing nutrition services for the Berkeley Unified School District is reflected in the made-from-scratch entrees served up for its 9,600 students. Not only does she serve nutritious food, but there is hands-on experiential learning through cooking and gardening classes.
If the program sounds similar to Alice Waters’ Chez Panisse Foundation, it is; Cooper and Waters partnered to design the model for the Berkeley vision. As a result, the Berkeley school district has gone from 95 percent processed food to 95 percent scratch cooking. They serve hormone and antibiotic free dairy, whole grain breads, fresh fruits and vegetables and have moved the procurement system towards local-sustainable foods.

This elaborate change did not happen overnight. Cooper honed in on five challenges that schools face in making change: 1) food, 2) finance, 3) facilities, 4) human resources and 5) marketing. In other words, schools have to find food they want to serve, pay for it, prepare and cook it, and then convince kids to eat it. Cooper recently launched an excellent online resource called “The Lunch Box” (, which offers scalable recipes, curricula, technical tools and community discussion to help launch school food reform across America.

School lunch is a topic during my consultations because clients submit their child’s food records to me. I am appalled when I review the school lunch menus.

We are sending mixed messages, since the food and nutrition discussions teachers have in the classroom do not mirror what is offered in the cafeteria. Revamping American school lunch requires innovative and collaborative efforts between communities and schools, but it can be done. If you are concerned about school lunch, gather your thoughts, gather your friends, click on “The Lunch Box,” and work in cooperation with schools to make the change you want to see for your children.
Melanie R. Silverman is a pediatric dietitian in Laguna Beach.

About Melanie Silverman

Melanie is a pediatric registered dietitian nutritionist (RD) and a board certified lactation consultant (IBCLC) working primarily in pediatric nutrition for well over 15 years. She spent seven years as a clinical dietitian at The University of Chicago Medical Center in the neonatal intensive care unit, pediatric intensive care unit, adult and pediatric burn units, and high risk pediatric follow-up clinic. She also served as an adjunct faculty member at Loyola University Chicago. Melanie has presented at state and national meetings for the American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition (ASPEN), March of Dimes, Prader-Willi California Foundation, Texas Prader-Willi Association, Oklahoma Prader Willi Syndrome Association, Foundation for Prader-Willi Research (FPWR) in the United States and Canada and the Prader-Willi Syndrome USA (PWSA). She worked hard for her Bachelor of Arts in Chemistry and Spanish from Indiana University and a Master’s degree in Clinical Nutrition from Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center. A member of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, California Dietetic Association, Pediatric Nutrition Practice Group, Women’s Health Group, Nutrition Entrepreneurs and an active member of the International Lactation Consultant Association.