Friday we were running a little behind in getting ready for school.  Carina generally doesn’t like to eat breakfast until she’s been awake for an hour or so.  When it came time to leave, we had run out of time for breakfast, and Carina wasn’t hungry anyway.  I handed her a granola bar and asked her to please eat it on the way to school. 15 minutes later, as I unstrapped her from her car seat, she took the first bite out of the granola bar.  I wasn’t about to send her in to her teachers (and 10 male classmates) toting a big chunk of stickyness, so I put her granola bar on the seat.  I knew she would have a mid-morning snack and I hoped it would be enough to tide her over til I picked her up at 11:30.

I was camped at the library across the street when the inevitable phone call came.  It was Carina’s teacher letting me know that Carina had a tummy ache and that she just wasn’t acting like her normal self.  When I arrived to pick her up, she ran into my arms and cried while her teacher testified, “You can tell she just doesn’t feel good.  She isn’t her normal happy self.  She wouldn’t even color!”  I thanked Carina’s teachers and headed to the car with her.  She was channeling some serious mama drama, sobbing and telling me how she “ate something yucky that has to come out” before her tummy would feel better.  I handed her the granola bar before I started buckling her in, and by the time I finished, it was half gone. She finished the granola bar on the way home, chatting and laughing between telling me that her tummy “rery hurts”. Once we got home, she ate half a turkey burger, a slice of tomato, a big piece of cheese, and a pickle.

Granola is to Breakfast as Ketchup is to Vegetable?

It seems the only thing affecting Carina’s tummy, her disposition, and her inability to color was her hunger.  I thought about the hundreds of thousands of kids that go to school without breakfast every day.  Kids whose tummies, dispositions, and learning abilities are never at their best, and whose mothers aren’t waiting across the street at the library when the teacher calls. Many of these children also go without dinner every night when they get home. The free lunches they get at school are their only real meal of the day.  Some schools have federally funded breakfast programs, and some schools have even implemented weekend back pack programs, in which needy children take home back packs full of easy to prepare food to get them through the weekend.  But, these programs have been repeatedly criticized for providing nutritionally deficient foods, further compounding the problem of hungry kids at school.

That night, after Carina was well fed and snug in her bed, I read an email from Senator Blanche Lincoln’s (D-Ark) office touting a new Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act.  The act provides more funding than ever before to federal school nutrition programs.  It seems like an exciting step in the right direction.  However, as the wife of a dentist who has stood before school boards to argue the need to remove soda machines from schools, I know that the word “nutrition” can be twisted to fit the needs of million dollar revenue sources (aka school contracts with beverage suppliers with names that start with COK and PEP). I see that Senator Lincoln’s plan has the endorsement of the American Beverage Association, but also the American Diabetes Association, the American Dietetic Association, and the American Heart Association.  So, we will have to wait and see if the act can meet its lofty goals for school food nutrition without corporate compromise.

I think it is very sad that it has become the responsibility of our educational system to provide caloric sustenance for millions of our nation’s children, but the alternative is even sadder.