While the policy is intended to eradicate hunger or malnutrition and encourage healthy eating, some students are still hungry. Can you really mandate meals that will be appropriate for both an 80-pound girl and an athletic, 130-pound boy?
As long as there have been cafeterias in schools, students have been complaining about the food. What used to consist of meat-and-potatoes fare slopped onto a plate has morphed over the years into prepackaged lunch items that more closely resemble fast food. Complaints now center on the nutritional value of the meals, and whether or not students who eat on campus are eating healthy.
Supported by the first lady as part of her Let’s Move! Campaign, the act was signed into law by President Obama back in December 2010. According to the White House press release, “The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 authorizes funding for federal school meal and child nutrition programs and increases access to healthy food for low-income children.” The bill provided for $4.5 billion in new funding for these programs over a 10 year period, with the dual goals of fighting childhood hunger and taking aim at the epidemic of obesity in children.
With almost 32 million students relying on lunches through the school lunch program, these meals need to not just taste appealing but be nutritionally sound. Many low-income students also eat breakfast that is provided for them at school, which means that most of their daily nutritional needs come from school-provided food. When President Obama signed this act, the hope was to provide increased access to healthier options for school children over the next 10 years.
Under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 there are specific guidelines for how many calories are allowed in each complete lunch. The USDA relied on recommendations made by a panel of experts brought together by the Institute of Medicine. Calorie amounts allowable per lunch were calculated based on the age of the child being served — using an average height and weight — and portion sizes were designed to maintain a healthy weight. The goal was to foster the same healthy changes in eating habits many parents are implementing at home.
Elementary school students in grades kindergarten through fifth are allowed 650 calories per meal. Moving into middle school, lunches served to children in sixth through eighth grades have a slightly increased calorie maximum at 700. By the time they are teenagers in high school, students are allowed 850 calories per meal — about one-third of the total calories they require per day. According to WebMD, active teens between the ages of 14 and 18 years require approximately 2,400 calories per day.
Many students and parents are complaining that the calorie maximums are too one-size-fits-all, and don’t provide enough food for larger, athletic teens who burn more calories. The USDA received an unprecedented 132,000 public comments regarding these proposed standards, and did make modifications where they deemed appropriate.
Through YouTube videos and interviews, students are complaining that the calorie restrictions are leaving them hungry and unable to concentrate on schoolwork. The USDA has released a fact sheet on calories in school meals, to help school authorities answer public concerns. The fact sheet specifically mentions additional options for the very active students. “In addition to making available second helpings of fruits and vegetables (or even milk) at lunch, schools can also structure afterschool snack and supper programs to provide additional foods for those who need them. Many schools have previously found success with parent or school-run booster clubs and may opt to continue this practice.”
Students who eat school lunches can always bring snacks or extra items from home to supplement their calorie intake if they find themselves still hungry in the afternoon. It is difficult to make a one-size-fits-all calorie maximum for meals that works for everyone. Help your child find a healthier way to eat without making him starve by encouraging healthy eating at home as well.
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