|Courtesy of National School Lunch Association|
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.