School districts have outlawed soda, chocolate milk, junk food of all types. They’ve added salad bars and whole wheat bread and are cutting out that staple food of teenagers everywhere, French fries. It’s a good strategy: Change the cafeteria options and, the thinking goes, you can get kids to eat better; you can put them on a life-long path to good nutrition and health.
Except. There’s one factor school districts and public health officials have failed to factor in: Food trucks that can pull right up near the school grounds and sell all those salty, sugary, banned-from-the-cafeteria junk food delights and make a nice profit to boot.
In recent years, junk food has in essence been banned from California school cafeterias on the basis of the calories, fat, saturated fat and sugar it contains. However, while you can hand a teenager fat-free turkey on whole wheat bread, you can’t make him or her eat it. According to the New York Times, so many food trucks have been showing up outside the grounds of middle and high schools in Novato in the Bay Area that cafeteria lunch sales have declined by 12 percent last year.
Teenagers know that the cafeteria food is better for them, but that does not mean they want to eat it. The food trucks’ bounty is “not really the most healthy choice, but it tastes better,” said Trent Eisenberg, 15, a sophomore who had bought a candy bar and chips from one of the trucks.
Rey Mayoral, the principal of Novato High, says that food truck drivers have even been paying students to save the best parking places for them.
Having observed the dietary habits and preferences of middle school, high school and college students, I have to say, the Novato school district’s food and nutrition services are fighting a losing, albeit noble, battle. Students seem quite willing to wait for their Hot Cheetos and Coke rather than have to eat what one student interviewed by the New York Times says is not “good food” (fruits and vegetables). Some 100 students line up to get their junk food lunch and the Novato school district has kowtowed to the pressure by reintroducing chocolate chip cookies to the menu. The PTA is trying to get an ordinance passed to address the situation:
About 1,000 residents have signed a letter circulated by parent-teacher associations asking Novato City Council members to “create an ordinance to prevent access of mobile food-vendor trucks within 1,500 feet” of all district schools. San Francisco already has a similar ordinance.
As 15-year-old Nathan Estrada says, such an ordinance won’t do much as he and other students “will just walk over there.”
At least they’d be getting a smidgeon of exercise.
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