I ate school lunches as a kid.
They were certainly never the best and over the years I was pretty sure they had deteriorated even more. Big corporations had stepped in — e.g., PepsiCo — ensuring school lunches were unhealthy and disease promoting.
School lunches are currently full of fat, sugar, cholesterol and sodium.
These are served up in the form of hamburgers, chicken nuggets, French fries and pizza. More unhealthy foods (candy bars, potato chips, soda) are crammed into vending machines.
Our kids are being fed a diet of additives, preservatives and chemicals.
School Lunches and Nutrition
A prime example of what is recommended for school lunches versus what is actually being served is the sodium content of meals. Even though the USDA recommends 500 mg of sodium per meal, many meals contain well over 1,000 mg.
Until recently school cafeterias were the dumping ground for whole milk.
Dairies pay farmers based on the fat content of their milk, so in order to guarantee a market, congress passed a law years ago that all schools must serve whole milk.
PCRM’s Report Card
The Physician’s Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) wanted to know how well our school lunch program was working. They examined 20 school districts in 2008 based on:
- obesity and chronic disease prevention
- nutrition and healthy eating initiatives
Their report card on these school lunch programs show half the districts received an A or B, while the other half fell below with some even failing.
Healthy alternatives need to be available.
These include salad bars, baked potatoes, vegetables, plant-based milks and other vegetarian options.
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010
Last year President Obama signed in to law the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010.
This action was motivated by the high childhood obesity rate in this country.
Some of the new standards include:
- Increasing whole grains
- Increasing the amount of fruits and vegetables offered to kids
- Serving only 1% regular milk or fat-free regular or flavored milk
- Decreasing sodium over the next decade
This act gives the USDA the authority to set nutritional standards for school lunches, including the “a la carte” line, vending machines and school stores. In order for corporate fast food to remain on the menu they must also improve the nutritional quality of their foods.
A reward for compliance is additional funding for federally-subsidized lunches.
There is no time frame set (other than decrease sodium over the next ten years) for these changes to take place and the standards may be too small and too late for this generation of kids.