Rich kids are eating organic, sustainably harvested, locally sourced vegetables and grains in their school lunches. Poor kids are eating excessive fat, sodium, processed foods and sugar. Thank you for one more health disparity along economic lines.

I remember the days when I had to eat "free lunch": The "tater tots," wilted "vegetables," gravy and unknown meat-like substance, french fries that tasted like, um, yeah I don't know, something (but not potatoes).

I just didn't eat. Or I would pick at a few things to smooth the edges of my hunger, just enough to get by.

I had that luxury because, though my mom was parenting solo, and I definitely qualified for free lunches, we were never so poor we went without food. I did not rely on school lunch as one of my only meals for the day. I always ate a good breakfast, and knew if I could just make it to 3 p.m. I could eat some real food at home.

They eat the school lunches because it's the food presented to them, and when you're really hungry, you eat.

Some kids don't have that luxury. They eat the school lunches because it's the food presented to them, and when you're really hungry, you eat.

HuffPost published an article about the nonprofit DoSomething.org, which invites high school students to submit photographs of their school lunches, in an effort to raise awareness of how these meals need to change. You might want to make sure you haven't just eaten before you scroll through those photos.

In this 2012 report, the USDA found that ­­(as quoted in HuffPost): "A typical school lunch far exceeds the recommended 500 milligrams of sodium; some districts, in fact, serve lunches with more than 1,000 milligrams" and "less than 1/3 of schools stay below the recommended standard for fat content in their meals."

21 million students relied on free and reduced lunch as their primary meal of the day. Up to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake comes from school provided meals.

Further, in 2012, "21 million students relied on free and reduced lunch as their primary meal of the day. Up to 65 percent of their daily calorie intake comes from school provided meals" (Source).

Marion Nestle, Ph.D, a nutrition and public health professor at NYU, stated: "School lunches hardly resemble real food — they serve items such as chicken nuggets, which are highly processed, with additives and preservatives, and list more than 30 ingredients instead of just chicken" (Source).

Perhaps those 21 million students just deserve poor health.

Perhaps we don't care because they're poor.

I mean this sure doesn't affect the rich kids, does it? Middle, middle-upper and wealthy families can send their kids to school with locally harvested, sustainably farmed organic chicken, artisan whole grain breads and fruits and vegetables from the farmers market. Yeah, I know. Not all families who can feed their kids healthy food choose to do so, but indeed they have the choice. At that point the responsibility is on them, don't you think?

But for families reliant on those school lunches, for families who have no choice, whether in the short or long term, but to depend on schools for food, they are basically at the mercy of the school district, which makes these decisions.

While the USDA states the basic nutritional requirements, the school districts decide how to enact those requirements. And though the "free lunch" programs need to improve, sometimes the "a la carte" items (foods kids can buy/choose for themselves) are significantly worse. They can often buy name-brand junk food, candy and sugary drinks. I saw chocolate milk in numerous photos. Why? I cannot for the life of me understand why chocolate milk would ever exist in a school.

Sugar, processed foods, sodium and high fat have all been linked to poor performance in school, obesity and diabetes.

Middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits and have high levels of "bad" cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home.

The University of Michigan found that "middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits and have high levels of 'bad' cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home" (Source).

They found that "children who consume school lunches were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.8 percent vs. 24.4 percent) than those who ate lunches brought from home. Children who ate school meals were more than twice as likely to consume fatty meats (25.8 percent vs. 11.4 percent) and sugary drinks (36 percent vs. 14.5 percent), while also eating fewer fruits and vegetables (16.3 percent vs. 91.2 percent)" (Source).

And then we wonder how the healthy disparity exists in America. We wonder why poor people are less healthy, more likely to have diabetes and obesity, which leads to heart conditions and premature deaths. I'm not saying the school districts or local governments are responsible for the eating habits of the poor.

What I'm saying is: We sure aren't doing much to help the situation. And though school lunches are improving overall (from when I was a kid), I'd argue we're taking steps to worsen it.

I wonder how many of the school administrators rely on school lunches for their kids. I wonder how many of members of the school board think of their son or daughter when they determine which foods to purchase for school lunches.

Not our kids. Not our problem. Right?

Well, make it your problem. Think about it at least.

Dosomething.org provides a thorough, useful, straightforward "Action Guide" for how to research, assess and demand change if your school district isn't meeting nutritional requirements.

Check it out. I know I'll be doing some research, because though I don't rely on it now for my kids, I may soon.

I mean I was, after all, the kid sitting there staring at the not-quite-food, wondering just what, exactly, they're trying to feed me.

And the rest of the kids.

More on nutrition

Healthy foods your kids won't hate
5 Easy steps to healthy cooking
Gluten-free diet: Hype or health?

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