The School Lunch Program: Parents Surrender Control of the Children’s Food to The Federal Government and the School Boards
“The reason that children are currently too fat is, in part, because they used to be too thin” – The School Lunch Programs
School time, including going and coming home from school dominates a child or teen’s day. The control the parents have at home evaporates once the school bus leaves and does not return for eight or more hours. The after school hours become dangerous times for eating and drinking because of the fatigue and low blood sugar experienced by many children and teens. It is easy for the parent who is also malnourished and often overwhelmed to give the child one of the bad snacks that he has seen on television. Whether it’s the wrong school breakfast, bad school lunches and school sponsored vending machine the parents have relinquished control of the child and teen’s food and drinks not only to the school but to their 7 year old!
School lunches offered to your children may differ among school districts, areas of the country or whether the school is public or private. Some schools have only cafeterias and provide the standardized school lunches while other schools also have a la carte food items, fast food kiosks or even student stores. Comparing what large groups of children end up eating for lunch, reveals twice as much fat from cafeteria lunches compared to bag (lunches bought from home.) Total fat and calories are even greater when students buy meals on an a la carte basis because they often pick two, three or more items and often the “wrong” items .
Where School Lunch Programs Began:
Undernourished and malnourished families and children began to be widespread across the US in the 1930’s. Draftees during World War II were regularly turned away because they were undernourished. Seeing this problem, President Harry S. Truman in 1946, pushes through the School Lunch Program, guaranteeing a hot lunch for every school who could not afford one. So began a plan that would contribute 60 years latter to the obesity epidemic we see today!
Changing School Lunch Programs:
The programs have changed over the years, adding free and reduced-cost breakfast during the 1960’s. The government is in the school-food-supply business, buying surplus products from farmers and sending it along to the schools. School lunches tend to exceed the national recommendations for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. While the quality has improved something in recent years, fresh fruits and vegetables are usually lacking. A sample of 24 public middle schools in San Diego County, CA. found that almost 50% of students in a school that has a student store or a la carte facility bought mostly candy, cakes and cookies and significantly fewer servings of fruit, and vegetables.
Scoop of the School Lunch Program:
Here is the 2005 USDA Food and Nutrition’s Service presentation entitled “School Meal Program Performance: What Do We Know?
o 94,622 schools (90% of public schools) participating in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) that served 49 million students
o School cafeterias served 4.8 billion lunches.
o NSLP serves over 29 million lunches, 9 million breakfasts and 154 million after school snacks
o About half of all lunches and 3/4 of all breakfasts are served free.
Children from low-income families may receive more than half of their daily caloric intake for these these meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not common place at homes can be come a stable of school lunches. Nutrition education could give students the tools that need to make healthy choices regarding eating and physical activity.
Mindless School Lunches vs. Packing a Lunch from Home:
Children, teens and their parents can buy their lunch at school or bring it from home. The choice should depend upon which results in the children obtaining the right foods at lunch. The typical school lunch is often much higher in calories, carbs and fat than it should be. It means that the parent needs to look closely at the cafeteria lunch menus which in most school districts are available for a week or two ahead. Here is what to look for in the school lunch:
- What to Eat: Sandwiches , subs, wraps, vegetables, fresh fruits, yogurts
- What to Drink: water, low fat or no fat milk, zero calories, fruit flavored waters
- What NOT to eat: fried foods, meat, pasta, pizza, rice or potatoes
- What NOT to drink: whole milk, sugar filled juices, soft drinks, sport drinks
On the other hand a lunch prepared by the parents is not always automatically healthier than one bought at school. If parents pack cookies, cake or potato chips, that’s not a nutritious meal! But a packed lunch, if the parent does it right, does not have a clear advantage. When you pack your children’s lunch, you know your children and teens are eating the “right foods” – stuff you know they like. Remember you are not around at lunch, so you must direct their food almost by remote control.
Talk to your child or teen:
Make sure what you send for lunch is what they like. Even better, take them shopping and listen to their input. Stock up on their favorite healthy foods, you can save some money and end up with a healthy child.
Here are some quick lunchbox tips:
o Easy to open small packs which children like. It needs to be made quick. Remember, lunch time may be no more than 15-20 minutes.
o Small children may not eat very much at one sitting. Think about packing appetizers instead of a large sandwich and whole banana. You can also include more choices if the quantity of each is smaller.
o Small foods are not only easier for children to handle, but they are more fun to eat. Cut sandwiches into smaller pieces, small sandwich buns, and fruits or vegetables in small bags. Do not overwhelm the child with a large portion of anything.
o Some kids are content to eat the same thing day after day. It often can drive you crazy about the habits they get into. Do not worry as long as the food is healthy
o Instead of making sandwiches, consider packing individual sandwich ingredients to let your child make their own sandwich at lunch, or eat the ingredients separately.
o Cereal bars can pack a lot of nutrition into a food kids love to eat.
High tech insulated lunch boxes and bags on the market that have built in food safety features: thermoses, a space to slip a pre frozen gel pack, even pockets for wet wipes
Children and teens need to make good choices at lunch:
Whether the better choices are accomplished by taking food from home or by careful selections from school cafeterias, it’s really unimportant. Parents need to understand they have little control of their child’s food from the time the school bus pulls away until 8 hours latter. School menus need to be reviewed constantly and the parent needs to watch the selections. If eating a school lunch, child needs to learn how to make the best selections from what is available.