I had the opportunity to visit Marshall Elementary School this week to take pictures of the children while they were eating lunch.
I generally got a good impression: the kids proceeded through the line in an orderly fashion, took their seats without squabbling, and ate some good-looking food. The cafeteria is bright and cheerful, with a lovely mural of tiger cubs on the wall.
The menu on the day of my visit was chicken filet sandwich, tater tots, whole kernel corn, sliced peaches, and a mini ice cream sandwich.
The only problem was that every child I could see from where I sat ate the ice cream sandwich first. This gave them less time to eat the rest of the meal, and less space in their stomachs for the more nourishing items on the tray.
Many I could see took only a few bites of corn, part of the sandwich, or a few tater tots before the aides started to come around collecting the forks. There was a lot of wasted food on the trays that went back to the kitchen.
How hard would it be to pass out the ice cream sandwiches as a snack sometime later in the day? How hard would it be to give each child their ice cream in exchange for a tray with a significant amount of "meat and potatoes" consumed? Perhaps neither of these is possible, since both would mean extra work for the already hard-pressed staff.
Looking at the bigger picture, are these children growing up with no idea of waiting for something they want?
Who is teaching them that treats are something you have to wait for?
Maybe their parents are - and maybe they're not.
Only a few months ago, banks were running advertisements that said, "Why wait? Take out a home equity loan now to pay for the swimming pool, boat, or vacation that you've always wanted."
Do you really need these things? No, they are like ice cream: nice but not necessary.
How many people have saddled themselves with debt for luxuries that are used up, forgotten, or discarded long before they are paid for?
A big dose of financial reality will have to be administered all over the country before our economy emerges from the current recession.
Why not include the children? We have a chance here to make treats something that are earned and waited for, not taken for granted.
If we go about it the right way, by the time these MES students graduate from high school, they could be the generation that returns to saving up for things they want; the generation that puts prudence and responsibility before instant gratification.
Or if we do nothing, maybe they will grow up borrowing money to satisfy their every whim, and eating ice cream before every meal.