School and Nutrition

For many students a school lunch is the only meal a child will eat throughout an eight hour school day. A lot of students pick out pop tarts and bags of chips full of saturated fat instead of a crisp apple or a banana. Part of the reason a student will do that is because they do not understand how big of an impact that unhealthy snack will have on their day. All of those empty calories will not provide them much energy at all, definitely not enough to satisfy them for the rest of the day. But it is hard to make the right choice when in the lunch line. Of course students are going to choose a greasy sausage pizza over a salad, and those that do choose the salad will drown it in ranch or some other type of unhealthy dressing. It is time for schools to start making changes for food options in the lunch line.

Picture from google images

Nutritional quality varies widely from district to district, but according to the USDA a typical school lunch far exceeds the recommended 500 milligrams of sodium; some districts, in fact, serve lunches with more than 1,000 milligrams. The USDA also reports that less than a third of schools stay below the recommended standard for fat content in their meals. “School lunches hardly resemble real food — they serve items such as chicken nuggets, which are highly processed, with additives and preservatives, and list more than 30 ingredients instead of just chicken,” says Marion Nestle, Ph.D., professor of nutrition food studies and public health at New York University. Nuggets are only one example of how schools rely on too many foods that are heavily processed and high in sugar, sodium, and chemicals. The problem isn’t simply that kids are eating unhealthy foods for lunch. The cafeteria’s offerings also give a seal of approval: “Kids associate school with education; therefore they get the wrong impression that these kinds of foods are healthy,” says Dr. Nestle.”. Just one nutrition class for a year would help students better understand what is healthy and what is not. As students learn more about nutrition it would be easier for them to stay away from the high sodium foods like chicken nuggets.

“We are not just talking about the stuff on the hot-lunch menu. Provided through the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to children who qualify for free or reduced-price lunches and breakfasts (and also offered to students who can pay full price), it meets the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. While NSLP meals — eaten by more than 31 million children, over half of all American students — need to be improved, the worst food lurks in what’s called à la carte service. That’s where any kid can buy anything from cake to pizza or brand-name junk food. These heavily marketed choices are essentially unregulated. (Hard candy and gum are not allowed to be sold but chocolate bars are, for example.) “We offer many choices in the school library but no pornography,” says Janet Poppendieck, Ph.D., author of Free for All: Fixing School Food in America. “We should offer an array of meals in school, but nothing unhealthy.”

Schools need to understand that a healthy meal is fuel for students to take on the day. The nutritious food that kids should be getting is scarce in school lunch lines. A good meal will help boost a kids concentration and cognitive function. It has been proven that when a student has a balanced breakfast or lunch that their test scores are better. It is time for our schools to make more nutritious food options.