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Childhood Obesity and School Lunches – How to Put Your Child’s Lunch Under Remote Control
The School Meals Program: Parents Ceding Control of Kids’ Food to the Federal Government and School Boards
“The reason children are currently too fat is, in part, because they were too thin” – The School Lunch Programs
School time, including getting to and 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 hours or so. The hours after school become dangerous times to eat and drink due to the fatigue and hypoglycemia experienced by many children and adolescents. It’s easy for the parent who is also tired and often overwhelmed to give the child one of the bad snacks he saw on television. From a bad school breakfast, bad school lunches and a school-sponsored vending machine, parents have given up control of the child’s and child’s food and drink. teenager not only to school but to their 7 year old!
The school meals offered to your children may differ by school district, region of the country, or whether the school is public or private. Some schools only have cafeterias and provide standardized school meals while other schools also have à la carte food items, fast food kiosks or even student stores. Comparing what large groups of kids end up eating for lunch reveals twice as much fat from cafeteria lunches as from bags (meals brought from home). Total fat and calories are even higher when students purchase a la carte meals, as they choose two, three or more items and often the “wrong” items.
Where school meals programs started:
Undernourished and malnourished families and children began to spread across the United States in the 1930s. Conscripts during World War II were routinely turned away because they were undernourished. Seeing this problem, President Harry S. Truman in 1946 started the School Lunch Program, guaranteeing a hot meal to every schoolchild who could not afford it. Thus began a plan that would contribute 60 years later to the obesity epidemic we know today!
Changing school meal programs:
Programs have changed over the years, adding free and reduced-price breakfast in the 1960s. The government takes care of the school food supply, buying surplus produce from farmers and sending it to schools. School meals tend to exceed national recommendations for fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and calories. While the quality has improved somewhat in recent years, fresh fruits and vegetables are generally lacking. A sample of 24 public middle schools in San Diego County, California. found that almost 50% of students in a school with a student shop or à la carte establishment bought mostly candy, cakes and cookies and significantly fewer servings of fruits and vegetables.
School meals program scoop:
This is the 2005 presentation from the USDA Food and Nutrition Service titled “School Meals Program Performance: 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 canteens served 4.8 billion lunches.
o NSLP serves over 29 million lunches, 9 million breakfasts and 154 million after-school snacks
o Approximately half of all lunches and 3/4 of all breakfasts are served free of charge.
Children from low-income families may receive more than half of their daily caloric intake from these meals. Fresh fruits and vegetables are not commonplace in homes and can become a school lunch stable. Nutrition education could give students the tools they need to make healthy choices about food and physical activity.
Mindless School Lunches vs Packing a Lunch at Home:
Children, teenagers and their parents can buy their lunch at school or bring it from home. The choice should depend on what gets kids the right foods at lunch. The typical school lunch often contains far more calories, carbs, and fats than it should. This means the parent should look closely at cafeteria lunch menus, which in most school districts are available a week or two in advance. Here’s what to look for in school lunch:
- What to eat: sandwichessubmarines, wraps, vegetables, fresh fruits, 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 parents is not always automatically healthier than one bought at school. If parents pack cookies, cakes or chips, it’s not a nutritious meal! But a packed lunch, if the parent does it well, has a clear benefit. When you pack your kids’ lunch, you know your kids and teens are eating the “right foods” – foods they like. Remember you are not there for lunch so you have to direct their food almost by remote control.
Talk to your child or teenager:
Make sure what you send for lunch is what they like. Better yet, take them shopping and listen to their feedback. Stock up on their favorite healthy foods, you can save money and end up with a healthy child.
Here are some quick lunchbox tips:
o Small sachets easy to open and appreciated by children. It has to be done quickly. Remember that lunch time should not exceed 15-20 minutes.
o Small children may not eat much in one sitting. Consider packing finger foods instead of a big sandwich and a 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, they are also more fun to eat. Cut sandwiches into small pieces, sandwich rolls and fruits or vegetables in small bags. Do not overwhelm the child with much of anything.
o Some children just eat the same thing day after day. This can often drive you crazy from the habits they pick up. Don’t worry as long as the food is healthy
o Instead of making sandwiches, consider wrapping individual ingredients so your child can make their own lunch sandwich or eat the ingredients separately.
o Cereal bars can pack a lot of nutrients into a food kids love to eat.
High-tech lunch boxes and cooler bags on the market that have built-in food safety features: thermos, space to slip in a pre-frozen gel pack, even pockets for wet wipes.
Children and teens need to make good breakfast choices:
Whether the best choices are accomplished by taking food from home or making careful selections in 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 pulls away until 8 hours later. School menus should be reviewed constantly and the parent should monitor the selections. If eating lunch at school, the child must learn to make the best choices from what is available.
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