Celebrate School Lunches!
National School Lunch Program
By now you’ve probably heard of the big changes that went into effect at the beginning of this school year resulting in new school lunch menus. These long awaited changes — the first update to the National School Lunch Program in fifteen years — are part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 as an overall effort to make federally subsidized school lunches healthier for kids.
The new guidelines are aimed at curbing childhood obesity and improving the health of the nation’s children. Nearly one in three children and adolescents aged 2 to 19 in the U.S. is overweight or obese, putting them at risk of preventable diseases such as diabetes and heart disease.
Schools are in a unique position to impact children’s food choices because many rely on school meals as their major source of nourishment. According to the USDA, in 2010, more than 31.8 million children participated in the National School Lunch Program and 11.6 million in the School Breakfast Program. The role of the school lunch program is to ensure students have healthful breakfasts and lunches at school – and, assuring parents their child is eating a quality, healthy meal every day.
“As parents, we try to prepare decent meals, limit how much junk food our kids eat, and ensure they have a reasonably balanced diet,” said First Lady Michelle Obama. “And when we’re putting in all that effort the last thing we want is for our hard work to be undone each day in the school cafeteria. When we send our kids to school, we expect that they won’t be eating the kind of fatty, salty, sugary foods that we try to keep them from eating at home. We want the food they get at school to be the same kind of food we would serve at our own kitchen tables.”
So, What’s for Lunch?
Fruits and vegetables, whole grains and dairy have stolen the school lunch show! Today’s lunches are far removed from the lack-luster meals that featured starchy, colorless items and have moved toward vibrant varieties of healthful goodness. Schools are saying FAREWELL to sodium-laden canned vegetables, fruit bathing in heavy syrups, and white bread — and are now saying HELLO to fresh, colorful foods like baked sweet potato fries, broccoli and squash, cantaloupe wedges and kiwi halves, wholesome hearty breads and pasta, and low-fat and no-fat milk, cheese and yogurt.
While this sounds wonderful – there’s still more! To further address the obesity issue — and associated chronic diseases that are cropping up among children at younger ages — school lunches now have limits on calories, sodium and trans fat. All known contributors to the ever increasing overweight and obesity problems.
For the first time, portion sizes will be measured in terms of the amount of calories they contain – based on the age of the child – servings will be subject to a recommended calorie allowance. In addition, saturated fat will be limited to less than 10% of total calories and a limit on sodium will be put in place. There will also be new restrictions on trans-fat, which will be reduced to 0g per serving.
What’s With the Grumbles!
So, who can argue these positive changes? For many students the changes were subtle and timely, but for some, according to the Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack there are “growing grumblings about the re-vamped school lunch menus”, specifically with the “lighter” school lunch tray (calorie limits).
Brenda Braulick, Food Service Director for Sartell-St. Stephen School District said, “most of my concerns come from student athletes and their parents.” Knowing that some students need more daily calories because of their increased physical activity levels, Ms. Braulick says the District has come up with a plan to give student’s options when the lunches aren’t enough for their active lifestyle. “Students can go to the à la carte area to purchase healthy options such as yogurt, whole grain bagels, smoothies, fruit, baked chips, etc.” Sartell-St. Stephen School District go as far as bundling 2 slices of hearty whole grain bread with peanut butter and jelly.
Ms. Braulick offers advice to student and their parents to curb the hungers. She says to start out with a healthy hearty breakfast in the morning either at home or at school. ”This could be whole grains, protein, fruit or vegetable and a dairy source. Parents can pack healthy snacks for students to have for extra energy prior to after school events.” Ms. Braulick recommends protein bars, whole fruit, dried fruit and nut mixes.
Be an Advocate!
Here are some tips to help parents feel confident the new changes are supporting their student’s health and well-being.
- Learn more about the new guidelines – do research!
- Talk to your school’s Food Service Director!
- Share positive and useful information to your family and other parents.
- Offer suggestions to your school to help them market the food to the kids to make it more interesting while being healthy.
- Talk to your kids! Kids can get easily overwhelmed with food choices, especially in a busy school cafeteria. Sit down with your child and the school lunch menu and talk about the choices they have that day at lunch.
- Be positive and be a healthy role model!
- Go to lunch and see for yourself what the school lunches are like.
Celebrate the National School Lunch Program!
This week is National School Lunch Week, with National Take Your Parents to School Lunch on Wednesday, October 17th. Schools and nutrition professionals across the country will celebrate National School Lunch Week with a theme called “School Lunch – What’s Cooking?” to observe the positive changes that have been made in school lunch programs this year.
It’s the perfect time to see what changes have been made to your child’s school lunch menus, and to see how you can support your school and your child’s health. Say “thank you” to your school food service and lunch staff for their dedication and hard work.
Read our most recent E-Newsletter highlighting National School Lunch Week!