As you probably know by now, I have a passion for childhood nutrition — teaching kids about nutrition and helping them make nutritious choices that are still delicious! This week happens to be National School Lunch Week, the theme of which is “School Lunch — Let’s Grow Healthy.” The theme and activities that go along with it will help students understand where food comes from and highlight the benefits of eating a nutritious school lunch. Since I am always advocating for eating seasonally I also love that the School Nutrition Association (SNA) is promoting a farm-to-school model with harvest-of-the-month menus and meet-the-farmer programs.
As everyone knows, childhood obesity is a problem that needs some solving. Considering that school-age children consume nearly half of their daily nourishment in the school setting, it’s more important than ever that school meals are balanced and nutritionally sound. According to the 2010 Dietary Guidelines, kids are at risk of not getting enough vitamin D, calcium, potassium, and dietary fiber. Having kids participate in the National School Lunch Program should help close some of these gaps. The program requires school meals meet federal nutrition standards including:
- No more than 30 percent of calories can come from fat and less than 10 percent from saturated fat.
- Over the course of one week, lunches must provide 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, vitamin A, vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.
- Well-balanced school lunches must include protein, fruits and vegetables, grains and low-fat milk and be served in age appropriate portions.
While fiber and vitamin D are not specifically called out in the meal standards, if schools serve low-fat milk and dairy products, switch from refined grains to whole grains, and increase fruit and vegetable offerings, children will be able to get more of these nutrients.
Some schools are doing a good job implementing these standards, but along with it they have taken the “delicious” out of the Nutritioulicious equation. While the majority of meals and snacks need to be of high nutritional value, let’s not forget that kids want to enjoy a treat or two as well. If treats are removed completely from the school setting, students will run to buy them elsewhere after school. It would be more productive for administrators and teachers to teach children that there is a place for all foods in one’s diet and provide lessons on portion sizes and balance. Better yet, schools should have registered dietitians come in to provide nutrition lessons.
Is your child’s school participating in National School Lunch Week? What do you think about school lunch programs?