Lunch is an important part of the school day – almost as important as recess! Many children brown bag their lunches, but many more depend on the school lunch (and breakfast) for a substantial portion of their daily nutrition.
In the past, school lunch programs have depended upon contributions of excess food from USDA programs – the idea was that farmers would have a ready market for their wares and that school children would benefit eating farm-fresh products. Well, we all know how that turned out! For the first time in fifteen years the USDA has raised the standards of the school lunch program. This will have a direct impact on the thirty-two million children who participate in the school meals program every day.
The final standards make the same kinds of practical changes that many parents are already encouraging at home, including offering students both fruits and vegetables every day of the week, substantially increasing offerings of whole grain-rich foods, offering only fat-free or low-fat milk varieties, and increasing the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
For the first time, calories are limited based on the age of the children. Under the old plan, the regulations stated a minimum number of calories; faced with increasing obesity we need to reeducate ourselves about proper portion size. It’s challenging for adults to regulate intake. It’s unreasonable for beginning readers to scan a nutrition label to see that a granola bar is actually two portions or for a thirsty adolescent to know that a bottle of juice drink is four servings.
Parents play an important role in supporting the school lunch program. Don’t sabotage the healthy meal initiatives by criticizing the food. If you are not satisfied, contact the school and offer help. Don’t allow children to have additional sweets or beverages other than water. Contact the school if your child is truly hungry after finishing the school breakfast or lunch.