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Childhood Obesity and School Lunches – How to Put Your Child’s Lunch Under Remote Control
The School Lunch Program: Parents Surrender Control of Children’s Food to the Federal Government and School Boards
“The reason kids today are too fat is, in part, because they used to be too thin” – The School Lunch Programs
School time, including going to and coming home from school dominates a child or teenager’s day. The control parents have at home evaporates once the school bus leaves and doesn’t return for eight or more hours. The after-school hours become dangerous times for eating and drinking due to the fatigue and low blood sugar experienced by many children and teenagers. It is easy for the parent, who is also tired and often overwhelmed, to give the child one of the bad snacks he saw on TV. Whether it is the wrong school breakfast, bad school lunches and a school sponsored vending machine, the parents have ceded control of the child and teenager’s food and drinks not only to the school but to their 7 year old!
School lunches offered to your children may differ between school districts, areas of the country or whether the school is public or private. Some schools only have cafeterias and provide the standardized school lunches while other schools also have a la carte food, fast food kiosks or even student shops. Comparing what large groups of children end up eating for lunch, reveals twice as much fat from cafeteria lunches compared to bag (lunch brought from home.) Total fat and calories are even greater when students buy meals a la carte because they often. choose two, three or more items and often the “wrong” items.
Where School Lunch Programs Began:
Malnourished and malnourished families and children began to be widespread across the United States in the 1930s. Recruits during World War II were regularly turned away because they were malnourished. Seeing this problem, President Harry S. Truman in 1946, pushed through the School Lunch Program, guaranteeing a hot lunch for every schoolchild who could not afford one. Thus began a plan that would contribute 60 years later to the obesity epidemic we see today!
Changing school lunch programs:
The programs changed over the years, adding free and reduced-cost breakfast during the 1960s. The government is in the school food supply business, buying surplus produce 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 somewhat in recent years, fresh fruit and vegetables are usually in short supply. A sample of 24 public high schools in San Diego County, CA. found that nearly 50% of students in a school that has a student store or a la carte bought mostly sweets, cakes and cookies and significantly fewer servings of fruit and vegetables.
Scoop from the School Lunch Program:
Here is the USDA Food and Nutrition Service’s 2005 presentation entitled “School Meal Program Effectiveness: What Do We Know?
o 94,622 schools (90% of public schools) participated in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) which served 49 million students.
o School cafeterias served 4.8 billion lunches.
o NSLP serves more than 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 of charge.
Children from low-income families can get more than half of their daily caloric intake from these meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not common in homes can be a stable of school lunches. Nutrition education could give students the tools they need to make healthy choices about eating and physical activity.
Silly School Lunches vs. Pack a Lunch from Home:
Children, teenagers and their parents can buy their lunch at school or bring it from home. The choice should depend on what results in the children getting the right foods at lunch. The typical school lunch is often much higher in calories, carbohydrates and fat than it should be. It means that the parent should take a close look at the cafeteria food menus, which in most school districts are available for a week or two in advance. Here’s what to look for in the school lunch:
- What to Eat: Sandwichessubjects, wraps, vegetables, fresh fruit, yogurts
- What to Drink: water, low-fat or fat-free milk, zero calories, fruit-flavored waters
- What NOT to eat: fried foods, meat, pasta, pizza, rice or potatoes
- What NOT to drink: whole milk, sugary juices, soft drinks, sports drinks
On the other hand, a lunch prepared by the parents is not always automatically healthier than the one bought at school. If parents pack cookies, cake or chips, that is not a nutritious meal! But a packed lunch, if the parent does it right, does have a distinct advantage. When you pack your kids’ lunches, you know your kids and teens are eating the “right foods” — things you know they like. Remember that you are not at the lunch table, so you have to direct their food practically with a remote control.
Talk to your child or teenager:
Make sure what you send for lunch is what they like. Even better, buy them and listen to their input. Provide 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 packages that children like. It has to be fast. Remember, the lunch time can 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 big sandwich and a whole banana. You can also include more options if the amount 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 rolls and fruit or vegetables in small bags. Do not overwhelm the child with a large portion of anything.
o Some children are content to eat the same thing day after day. It can often drive you crazy with the habits they get into. Don’t worry as long as the food is healthy
o Instead of making sandwiches, consider packing individual sandwiches 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 that kids love to eat.
High-tech insulated lunch boxes and bags on the market that have built-in food safety features: thermoses, space to slide in a pre-frozen gel pack, even pockets for wet wipes.
Children and teenagers need to make good choices at lunch:
Whether the better choices are made by eating from home or by making careful choices from school cafeterias, it really doesn’t matter. Parents need to understand that they have little control over their child’s food from the time the school bus leaves until 8 hours later. School menus should be reviewed constantly and the parent should look at the options. When eating school lunch, a child must learn how to make the best choices from what is available.
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