Are You Kidding Me?


The following menu is from where?

  • Monday: Chicken in Sweet Chili and Organic White Fiber Pasta
  • Tuesday: Mashed Potatoes and Sausages and/or Chorizo
  • Wednesday: Lemon and Dill Oven-Baked Hoki Fillet with Boiled Potatoes
  • Thursday: Potato and Leek Soup with Pancakes for Dessert
  • Friday: Gratin au Pasta with Ham, Bacon and Chili

A. The American Embassy Cafeteria.

B. The hip new Organic Cafe in Stockholm.

C. The menu I cooked for my family last week.

D. Futura International Pre-school for 18 months to five-years old.

No chance it’s C. The answer is D!!! Yes D.

Moms and Dads, fellow citizens, Michelle Obama…we need to face facts. School lunches in America are a nightmare. What can you pack M-F in those cartoon-insulated sacks that can be consumed four hours later? The gold standard of my childhood was PB&J. Now peanut butter is banned at most schools because half the country is allergic. That leaves ham and cheese, turkey and cheese, mystery meat and cheese, tuna if you want be ridiculed, a bagel if you’re lucky, (but how many days in a row can you eat a bagel?)

Thanks to Costco, my lunch packing days in California were made easier with pre-bagged baked chips. Saved on my Zip-locks. Just toss in some chips, along with a sandwich and some Apple Dippers and you’re good. What’s Apple Dippers you say? Sliced apples that never go brown, ever, served with caramel, in a throwaway plastic container—now there’s a food company with a heart.

But seriously, even if you fork over your kid’s college fund to pay for hot lunches, are you really doing any better? I know some schools have ramped up their program, taken sodas out of the vending machines and added more canned fruit and cut up carrots. There’s less pizza and chicken nugget days, but why are we feeding our kids mega processed foods devoid of real home-cooked flavor? Why is the greasy pizza square I ate as a child still on the menu?

Because it’s cheaper? Over the past three decades childhood obesity rates have tripled in the U.S. Today one out of six children is obese and one out of three is overweight or obese (Harvard School of public health). Fat kids grow up to be fat adults. You’ve seen the People of Wal-Mart photos on the Internet, don’t tell me you haven’t. Ticking time bombs, that’s what they are walking around, waiting for diabetes, a heart attack or worse, living on medications. It’s sad.

I realize we got excited recently when our number position as fattest country in THE WORLD dropped from number one to whoa…number two! Right behind Mexico. But before we grab our cake and piñata to celebrate, let’s just sit down and talk for a second…

When you read D was the answer to my question, was your reaction: Are you kidding me? That was my reaction when we first moved to Sweden. Coming from America, I had cultural attitudes towards food which were quite different from the Swedes’. I’ll explain…

First off, Swedes believe the act of sitting down to eat a hot lunch is part of what human beings should learn at school, Lunch 101, along with reading and writing and arithmatic. Lunch is not a formal class, it’s lunch—a time set aside in the middle of the day for kids to learn healthy eating habits. It’s as vital to our education as algebra (maybe more so). The lunch period for my son at high school is one hour. At Jonah’s elementary school, where the cafeteria is small and shared by many grades, it’s 45 minutes.

Lunch is not rushed. It’s not a pre-arranged meal tray with an individual carton of milk either. Lunch is served family style or buffet style, depending upon the size of the school. Kids pour their own milk or water from a pitcher and scoop out the salmon filets, chicken, or what have you, from large hot platters. You want seconds on the cooked peas, go ahead and have some.

Kids, not adults, regulate what they eat, choosing from a stunning variety of healthy choices. Oh, and there’s no dessert pudding or ice cream cups to go with your meal. Kids can’t simply eat dessert or fries or (place the unhealthy food offered at your school here) and throw out the rest. In fact no one here is throwing food out, because they put what they want on their plates and that’s what they eat. If they’re still hungry, there are always high-fiber Wasa crackers with butter spread. I promise you preschoolers LOVE them and what’s more they get to spread the butter themselves.

From the menu above, you can see the variety of nutrients and flavors, even spicy ones. The idea is to educate children and create a palate sophisticated enough to eat REAL food, not yogurt from a tube (although yes, my kids love those).

When a child starts preschool, the parent is required to attend with them for the first three days, which meant I got to eat this food. It was amazing, better than most restaurants, mostly organic and what’s more it was FREE.

Yes, FREE to every child in the entire country of Sweden. There is no “class” system when it comes to feeding kids. It’s part of their education. Lunchtime is a learning time, a time to sit, nourish your body and socialize with friends. It’s the foundation on which children grow physically and therefore emotionally.

I believe this lunchtime hour is why Swedes, as adults, take time to sit down and enjoy a hot lunch. There’s not a lot of eating “on-the-go.” Not a lot of fast food or people driving while scarfing down a nutrition bar. There’s no breakfast Pop-Tarts or rushing to work gulping coffee with a donut, (although I’d really like it if someone would PLEASE open a Dunkin’ Donuts in Sweden). People here sit in a very civilized manner, in restaurants and homes and places of business and eat. In fact the cost of lunch is included in most people’s salary. No kidding.

In our rush toward success and progress in America, where great things happen every day (just not in the House or Senate), why not feed ourselves and our children in a way that makes sense, in a way that nourishes and sustains long term vitality, in a way that invites community and responsibility in farming practices and protects the environment? It’s possible. I’ve seen it for the last year happening in all four of my children’s schools at different grade levels. I know for most of you reading this, I’m preaching to the choir. Sing on sister!! But before you think I’ve gone local, I’ll say this…Sweden is also dealing with an increase in childhood obesity. According to WHO, worldwide obesity has nearly doubled since 1980, including in Sweden. No one’s exempt, but when it comes to fattest countries in the world, Sweden is number ninety. That says a lot and if we’re smart, we can learn a thing or two from number ninety.

18 Comments on “Are You Kidding Me?

  1. Carrie,

    As the mother of a little one, I thought you might enjoy reading this, the latest entry in the blog of one of my former students. (She’s now the wife of a diplomat and the mother of four, and we’ve kept in touch all these years. In fact, John and I visited her when they were living in Greece.) While I enjoy all of her entries, I especially love the ones where she explores cultural differences. As you’ll see, the family is currently living in Sweden–and that’s all I’ll say so I don’t give away the topic.


    • Thanks so much Polly! I’ve been fascinated with the way people eat in Sweden, especially the kids. When we first arrived I asked the schools if I should pack lunches or snacks for the kids they looked at me like, Huh, why would you do that? I can tell you it’s taken so much pressure off my mornings not to worry about those darn lunch boxes, not to mention that now my kids will eat things their peers eat:). If everyone’s doing it, so will they. For that reason alone I wouldn’t mind staying in the school system here until they all graduate:)

  2. Masterfully written, Lana! I’m passing this on until it reaches Ms. Obama herself.

  3. Amen! What a concept–helping children explore nutritious (and delicious!) options, and making it easy to do so. May I move my family to Sweden, please?! I also love to hear you talk about how the food is served, and the social/emotional/developmental side of meals is encouraged. Bravo!

    • Thanks for your comment Janine! My kids in CA had 20 minutes to hurry and eat their packed lunches. Most kids in high school skipped lunch so they kept the library open to study. How effective is learning if you don’t eat? Before moving to Sweden I didn’t know this was possible in a school system, now that I do, I really want this for every kid in America. It makes so much sense.

  4. Wow…hot topic, eh? This post illicited quite the response and I understand why…Diabetes and all it’s accompanying health problems require far more funds to deal with than fronting the money to eat healthy and teach good life skills. I wonder sometimes when America is going to finally figure that out. Thanks for spotlighting this important topic that reaches out and touches every single one of us in some way or another!

    • Exactly, being in nursing you know more than most, how the consequences of not paying closer attention to our health at a young age will haunt us when we’re older. We have to stop looking for the magic bullet and make the changes that count.

  5. Lana, I LOVE THIS POST!!! I shared it on my FB page.. I am so with you, and yes I do think that one of the best parts is that all kids in Sweden who are in dagis get to eat good food.. not just rich kids at the rich schools.. everyone.

    • Thanks for sharing Devi. This has been an issue I’ve dealt with, like most parents, for years. I had no idea how wonderful school lunch could be. And I didn’t mention the best part…no one eats alone. When you’re at a table passing dishes family style, everyone is included. It’s a beautiful thing.

      Sent from my iPhone


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