Food & Beverage

Lack of Nutrition in School Lunches

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Think back to when you were a child and imagine what you had for school lunch. Was it very good, but an even better question is, was the nutrition value very good? While the requirements for school lunches have been improving, the chances are the nutrition value wasn’t very good.

The USDA’s school lunch requirements have been going back and forth the past years. Recently the Trump administration gave more freedom to schools for lunches and breakfast.  This means the schools can serve food that:

  • isn’t fresh
  • loaded with preservatives
  • low nutrition value
  • not local

The above things make it easier to serve low nutrition and cheap food. In 2010 Michelle Obama implemented a program, Let’s Move, to help school food be healthier.  The changes that Michelle Obama made with school lunches for the better were:

  • whole grains instead of white 
  • less sodium
  • less processed food
  • more fresh fruit
  • more fresh vegetable
  • less trans fats 
  • less saturated fats

The nutrition requirements may not seem too bad, but there isn’t a requirement of how they must serve the food. Most of the time it is previously frozen and or heavily preserved.

The school typically outsource to another company to order their food like Aramark or Sodexo; the schools could at least say if they want fresh food or not outsource. The blame can’t be put on the outsourced company.

 

School lunch is the Only meal Some Students Get

I have heard people say if kids have food it’s fine. Yes, some food is better than nothing, but when we know not all food is created equal the type of food the government gives children should matter; the number of calories is not the only thing that matters.

When children don’t get the type of calories they need they become malnourished. The effects are the same for children who are overweight and underweight. Some of the consequences of being malnourished are:

  • slow emotional responses
  • coping with stress
  • learning disabilities 
  • vision delays 
  • delay in language
  • fine motor skills
  • memory 

When you know a high percentage of students who are getting the school lunches are not getting the correct nutrition at home you would think the schools would want to make sure they are at school. 

The USDA thinks it is more important to make a profit off the food, then to try and give students good tasting food that has good nutritional value. If the USDA cared they wouldn’t give up on giving schools some nutritional food, because the kids didn’t like it.

Instead, they would try and find a way to make the food look more appealing and taste better. 

Sugar

The US is notorious for its big conception of junk food compared to other countries like France. With the latest studies on sugar and the child obesity rate going up in the US, one would think the school districts would at least consider the sugar in school lunches.

Most days the amount of added sugar in school lunches is just below the daily recommendation. When I worked at an elementary school, I was surprised to see that almost every day there was some sort of dessert and the second choice was in the shape of a burrito but looked like a cookie with chocolate chips, some protein, and the sugar was 22 g.

The recommended daily amount is to have less than 25 g (6 teaspoons) of sugar for children 2-18 years old. Does the school really need to give kids a dessert for lunch? Yes, it’s nice but all a dessert is a portion of food that lights up your brain the same way hard drugs do because of the sugar.

There is plenty of natural sugar in fruit with other needed nutrition. The dessert calories can be used for food that will do a child well and not harm.

Milk

Milk is an interesting subject. First, there is no need for humans to have milk once they stop nursing or are done taking a bottle. Also, we are the only animal that drinks another animal’s milk and that continues to drink it throughout our life. 

Second, schools are only allowed to serve 1%, Fat-Free, and flavored milk. There are a couple of things wrong with this. First, why not whole milk and why does there have to be flavored milk?

Whole milk is less processed, has more fat and calories. The flavored milk is pointless, because of all the added sugar to it, four to six teaspoons. Isn’t the point to give the school children nutritious food?

Since 1940 milk has been federally subsidized in schools. One of the big reasons why is because children were not getting enough calcium and iron in their diet. What about getting calcium and iron from other foods such as fruits and vegetables? 

Where is the Water?

Children in elementary school have lunch before or after recess. Why not have only water? The extra money used on milk could go towards better quality food and it would help children stay more hydrated.

Also, the kids could use reusable cups for water instead of the plastic bags that the milk comes in to help reduce waste.

Where is your school lunch money going?

After seeing what the food looks like it’s not surprising that only $1.30 is spent per lunch for about 29.8 million students a day, and that includes more than just the food. The $1.30 includes:

  • food
  • machine/equipment
  • electricity
  • labor

 

American school Lunches

School lunches used to be horrible, a 2009 investigation by USA TODAY found that the government gives our kids food that fast food rejects because it doesn’t meet their standards.

This is the meat that is typically made into animal food.  Since then the standards have gone up some but so have the fast standards. Like I said earlier, at least now we have some nutrition standards, that’s a start, right? It just baffles me that it took till 2010 to boost our standards some and then in 2017 the regulations were lessened. 

In America more kids eat the school lunches then kids who bring lunch from home and here is what a typical lunch from the school looks like.

A classic example of US lunch is

  • Chicken Nuggets or a corndog
  • Previously frozen peas or fries
  • Fruit cup (with sugar water)
  • Dessert-cookie/brownie
  • Milk-1%, Fat-Free or fat-free flavored

The future of the children

All kids deserve a chance but with what the government is feeding our kids its no wonder more kids are acting out and doing worse in school. We need to try and get the government and the school districts to give our children more nutritious food.

 

What can be done? 

Currently American school lunches aren’t that great; however, they are slowly trying to change that. There are things that you can do to help encourage regulation change and a few ways to help change the American school lunch regulations are:

  • Contact local officials
  • Work with your school district
  • Push for more options that are plant based 
  • Work with people to educate others about nutrition

Sadly, a lot of people don’t realize what good or bad nutrition can do to a growing person.

The better the food the schools can provide, the more students will improve socially and academically. The government should want to help students, especially the ones who aren’t able to have their needs met at home.