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Ranch Dressing with a Little Salad on the Side

Tingley-021 colorI was eating lunch in what I called “the executive dining room,” a butcher block table in the kitchen of the high school, when the cafeteria manager hoisted up on the table an industrial - sized jar of ranch dressing.  “You would not believe how many jars of this we go through in a week,” she said.

We had recently added a salad bar to encourage more healthy lunch choices for our students.  “Must be their favorite dressing,” I said.

“Oh, it’s their favorite all right,” she said.  “But they don’t just put it on salads.  They put it on everything – hot dogs, pizza, fish sandwiches, you name it.  If I put glasses out there, they’d drink it.”  I looked at the label.  One hundred eighty calories per two tablespoon serving, one hundred seventy of them from fat.

We removed all the vats of dressings from the salad bar, and students had to pick up a small cup of their choice on the line when they paid for their salad.   Still, many were happy to pay extra for a second cup or even a third.

Federal guidelines this year reduce the number of calories allowed for school lunches and require schools to serve a wider variety of fruits and vegetable in an effort to combat childhood obesity.  The guidelines also limit the amounts of grains and proteins served over the course of a week.

Kids have taken to these new guidelines with the annoyance of New York City consumers who are no longer able to purchase sugared soft drinks in cups the size of their heads.  But a third of our youngsters are overweight or obese and that percentage continues to edge up.  Studies show that kids consume a third to a
half of their calories at school.

Of course, many kids (and some parents and teachers) are outraged at the reduced portions their children are now being served, despite the fact that kids can have as many servings of fruits and vegetables as they Wall-e-captain-action-figure want.  Kids insist they are “starving,” despite throwing away enough food every day to feed a small nation.  And schools are scrambling to present appealing menus to kids whose palates have been desensitized by Pizza Hut and McDonald’s, which, at some schools, were part of the daily offerings kids could choose.

Some schools report a drop in the numbers of students buying lunch.  Others say students are eschewing school lunches and spending their money on snack foods.  A smaller number has actually decided to brown bag it for a while.

What nearly everyone agrees on (or at least gives lip service to) is that as a nation we have to take some positive action to reduce childhood obesity by limiting access to junk food and increasing physical activity.  Exacerbating the situation, of course, is that some schools have cut physical education, recess or sports either to reduce their budgets or to make time for more test prep.

Helping kids make healthy choices – including food --  is part of our responsibilities as educators. For those who complain that the new school guidelines are a reflection of the “nanny” state we’ve become, I suggest that you roll yourself into your local mall, find a seat (or two), and watch the passing crowds of people. Better yet, head to the food court and check out the lines at the pizza places that regularly include ranch dressing as a pizza dipping sauce.  



They put it on everything – hot dogs, pizza, fish sandwiches, you name it. If I put glasses out there, they’d drink it.” I looked at the label. One hundred eighty calories per two tablespoon serving, one hundred seventy of them from fat.

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