If your children eat breakfast and lunch in the school cafeteria, their food choices have a significant impact on their health and weight. While many factors contribute to childhood obesity and disease, poor nutrition plays a leading role. According to research from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the prevalence of overweight children could double over the next two decades. A key way to reverse this trend is to instigate change in the foods offered to your kids at school, as well as promoting a healthy, balanced diet at home.
In 1946 the National School Lunch Act created the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which offers lunch in all public, and some private, schools. In 1975, the School Breakfast Program was established and is operating in many schools. The NSLP was created to feed school age kids, prevent dietary deficiencies, and to provide an outlet for surplus agricultural commodities. The School Breakfast Program helps meet the nutritional needs of children from low income families.
In 2009, the third School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study, published in The Journal of the American Dietetic Association, evaluated the school meal program based on nearly 400 public schools, including grades 1 to 12.
Based on the recommendations set by the Dietary Guidelines for Americans, researchers concluded that few schools met the standards for adequate fiber, nearly all school lunches contained too much salt, the majority of schools exceeded the standards for total and saturated fat, and only 6 percent of the schools met the standards for protein, fat, saturated fat, calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C. In short, the majority of school meals are akin to fast food.
The 2008 Healthy School Lunch report conducted by the Physicians Committee of Responsible Medicine (PCRM) suggests that schools are making great strides in improving their lunch menus, serving an increasing number of healthful vegetarian and vegan entrées. Seventy-five percent of schools evaluated in PCRM's report serve at least one vegetarian option every day and, of these schools, 65 percent offer a vegan entrée. All schools in the study serve non-dairy alternatives to milk. Sixty-five percent of school food service departments now offer nutrition education, and 75 percent of school districts offer additional inventive nutrition programs. Both trends could play an important role in improving children's health.
A growing number of schools have established school gardens to not only teach kids about where their food comes from, but also to improve the school meal offerings. Getting kids involved in gardens may be one of the best ways to introduce new fruits and vegetables into their diet. School gardens also may help reduce school food costs that are often a barrier for schools to make healthful changes.
The federal government has begun to address high food costs by making changes to the NSLP. Congress recently authorized an increase in funding earmarked for the purchase of fruits and vegetables. The NSLP also has begun working to expand its commodity food purchases to include more whole grains to offset the usual high-fat, high-cholesterol animal products. Currently, the Obama administration is pushing to create new standards for all school meals and vending machine fare. The new nutrition standards would make foods like pizza, healthier, using whole wheat crust or low-fat mozzarella, for example. Vending machines could be stocked with less candy and fewer high-calorie sodas. Stay tuned to see if Congress passes the bill.
Tell us: What do you think of school lunches in your district? Comment below!
And you'll see personalized content just for you whenever you click the My Feed .
SheKnows is making some changes!