Keeping Kids Healthy at School: We’re Not Doing Enough!

American children eat five meals (or more) a week at school. That’s five times a week for us to institutionalize healthy eating. Instead, we’re feeding them crap. Some twenty times a month we teach our kids that eating highly-processed, low-nutrient foods is okay. And frankly, that’s unacceptable. It’s time to take back school lunches and keep kids healthy in this country!

We’ve got to rethink what our children are eating at school.

What Does School Food Actually Look Like?

A snapshot of what the average American school is serving (chicken nuggets, french fries, nachos, and reconstituted hamburgers) sounds more like a skating rink snack bar than an education institution. The American Lunchroom blog posts pictures of the highs (chicken caesar salad) and lows (“fish and cheese nuggets”) of school lunches across the country. And in this disturbing infographic, GOOD magazine compares prison lunches to school lunches.

Download a copy of this infographic.

Most lunch trays are composed of processed meats and additive-laced pre-packaged foods, and the devastating effects are already coming to light. A study in the American Heart Journal found six-graders who regularly ate school lunch were 29 percent more likely to be obese than those who brought lunch from home.

Other countries that aren’t struggling with high rates of childhood obesity are instilling positive food values during their lunch hour. As Rebeca Plantier of MindBodyGreen observed in France, “Almost all foods are prepared right in the kitchen; they’re not ready-made frozen. This means mashed potatoes, most desserts, salads, soups, and certainly the main dishes are prepared daily.” And even before it’s prepared, the menu is sent for approval from a dietician to check the balance of protein, carbs, and sugars.

How the Government Is Trying to Fix It

So is the U.S. doing anything to help keep kids healthy? Kind of. New nutrition standards enacted under the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act were implemented by the USDA in 2012. School lunches are now required to be lower in fat, calories and sodium, and contain lean proteins, more fruits and vegetables, and whole grains. But then again, we all know that the USDA guidelines are total crap.

As a result, the new low-fat, low-sodium rules might be having the reverse effect. In “Why Students Hate School Lunches,” New York Times reporter Kate Murphy writes that “a typical federally-approved school lunch in the United States is a ‘reformulated’ Philly cheesesteak sandwich (low-fat, low-salt processed cheese and lean mystery meat on a whole grain bun).” Not quite the definition of “clean eating,” is it?

However, the research is encouraging. The new guidelines require that students have a fruit or vegetable on their plate. Which begs the question: are they actually eating them? Research says yes. This study in Childhood Obesity emphatically states that students are eating more fruit and throwing away less of their vegetables than before the change.

Before the Healthy Hunger Free Kids Act, school lunches were inundated with deep-fried, salty, high-calorie meals and junk-food snacks, and they could pass up the fruits and vegetables so critical to their health.
– Bettina Elias Siegel of The Lunch Tray in the NYT

What You Can Do Now:

Bottom line: We know eating clean foods, cutting out processed junk, andlowering sugar are key to health and longevity. But we’ve got to start early. Eating habits are hard to unlearn, and in order to raise a happy, healthy generation, we’ve got to rethink what our children are eating at school… and at home.

We need to change what our kids eat. And it starts with us.

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