The new federal school lunch standards rolled out this September have drawn protests and boycotts from high-schoolers, and there are reports that children of all ages are dumping their veggies. The new guidelines from the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) are admirably aimed at improving health and combating childhood obesity, but is this the right approach?
The new standards insure students are offered fruit and vegetables every day, increase offerings of whole grain foods, offer only fat-free or low-fat milk, and limit calories based on the age of the children being served.
Childhood obesity is certainly a serious health concern. Here in Connecticut a recent study found that a third of kindergarteners and third-graders are overweight and one in seven are obese.
Obesity solution or restricted eating?
Some say the new lunch program is a step in the right direction, while others object to the calorie limitations and say the changes are too sudden.
The Milwakee Wisconsin Journal Sentinel reports that 70% of Mukwonago High students who normally buy lunch boycotted the school lunches to protest the one-size-fits-all approach. The USDA standards limit lunchtime calories for students in grades nine through twelve to 850.
“A freshman girl who weighs 100 pounds can eat this lunch and feel completely full, maybe even a little bloated,” said Joey Bougneit, a Mukwonago senior.
But [Nick] Blohm is a 6-foot-3-inch, 210-pound linebacker. He’s also class president, and takes several Advanced Placement classes. If schools want students to perform well, he said, they can’t be sitting in their chairs hungry.
Marion Nestle, a New York University professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies, and Public Health, writes on her blog FoodPolitics.com:
If kids aren’t eating the food because they hate it, the calorie limits hardly matter. And if kids are hungry, the remedy is simple: Eat the food.
The new lunch standards hardly call for starvation rations. Kindergarteners through fifth-graders get up to 650 calories. The maximum is 700 for kids in grades six through eight, and 850 for high schoolers. All kids can have extra servings of vegetables. This ought to be plenty to get most of today’s kids – sedentary, underactive and prone to obesity as they are – through any school day.
On her blog FakeFoodWatch.com, journalist and blogger Deborah White writes:
The Obama administration’s new school-lunch guidelines are a well-intentioned step forward, but too restrictive, too inflexible. Too extreme. And too much, too soon, to successfully wean American kids off fast food habits, and to inspire love of healthier fare. Force is not the way to lead kids, or anyone, away from fake foods.
Perhaps worst of all, kids from low-income families can least afford to augment the often unsatisfying lunches that may be their heartiest meal of the day. Sometimes their only meal…
Also quoted in the Journal Sentinel article is Mukwonago Area School District Food Service Supervisor Pam Harris. Harris said:
Children’s weight and poor nutrition in America are serious problems, but the changes are too abrupt.
“I could not be more passionate about this,” Harris said. “I want to solve this problem. But limiting calories in school lunch is not going to help the overweight kid. What happens at home is a major piece of that puzzle.”
In the New York Times, Jane E. Brody writes that it’s important for parents to expose children to a variety of foods and involve them in food preparation.
But schools, too, have work to do. When children learn about foods in the classroom and have hands-on experience with them, they are more likely to eat them in the lunchroom.
How about restoring kitchens run by well-trained cooks who know how to prepare nutritious and inviting meals, and offering cooking classes to boys and girls starting in the first grade? Schools today are so focused on stuffing children’s heads with facts and figures they have forgotten that a good mind needs a well-nourished (and well-exercised) body.
What’s your opinion? How are students in your school reacting to the new school lunch standards?