Monday, October 13, 2014

Not Your Mother's School Lunch

national school lunch week, nutrition, physical fitness, school wellness, eduction
Courtesy of National School Lunch Association
This week is National School Lunch Week—a time to increase awareness of the importance of school meals. Now in its fifty-first year, National School Lunch Week was originally established by a proclamation from President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and officially scheduled for the second full week of October each year by an act of Congress.

This year’s theme is “Get in the Game with School Lunch,” and encourages physical activity alongside the role of school nutrition programs in academic success and wellness.

Thinking back to high school, for a lot of us school lunch probably doesn’t sound worth celebrating. And ten years ago, you most likely would have been correct. But with all the recent changes in place from the USDA, now it might just be worth a second look.

When you think of school lunches, you probably remember chicken nuggets (though the “chicken” part was questionable) and pizza that tasted like cardboard. For me at least, our school lunches were often so gross that I skipped them completely in favor of a bag of Peanut M&M’s and a can of Mountain Dew, and took myself off to the theater to work on whatever play we had coming up next.

I can only imagine mine was a pretty typical experience. And I’m sure that’s partially why one in three children in the United States are now overweight or obese. And it probably has something to do with why obesity rates have tripled over the past 30 years.

Luckily, for a lot of reasons, the upward trend of weight gain among children has been curbed. That’s not to say we’re in a good spot―we now need to reverse the trend and get our children healthier.

Among the reasons that the obesity epidemic might have leveled off are new guidelines from the USDA about what foods can be sold (and must be sold) in school lunchrooms, vending machines and a la carte snack bars.

Keep in mind that for some students, a school meal might be the only consistent meal in their lives. Children consume up to half of their calories at school, and until recently a lot of those calories weren’t exactly the good kind (think: fried okra, chocolate cake, sodas).

Now, schools are serving whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables, low-fat milk and 100 percent juices. Gone are the days of Snickers for lunch, mystery meat and fried, well, anything. And studies show that kids actually like the meals, though of course there are some complaints, which is to be expected with any big change.

Still not convinced that school meals can be healthy and delicious? If you have kids, ask their school if you can join them for lunch this week to celebrate School Lunch Week, and judge for yourself.

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