When I look back at my experience through elementary and secondary school, and think about school lunch my memories are not cherished. The gray messy masses that smell and jiggle in a nebulous blob while the lunch lady deposits it onto my tray. No, those were not fond memories at all. I do remember having to look at the month ahead with my mother, because she wanted me to at least eat one school prepared meal a week. These were tough decisions for an elementary student, with picky taste in food. I remember most of the students in my class eating the chocolate cake or the cookies as the main course of their meal. Now that I look back on this, I realize how foolish it was that teachers did not pay better attention to our diets.
American’s “sweet tooth is tied to sour health” according to Jane Brody of The New York Times. We are “squeezing out nutritious foods like fruits, vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy products that can help to prevent disease.” A nutritionally complete diet should involve no more than ten percent of its calories from added sugar; “American children now consume nearly twice that amount. The average teenager derives 19 percent of calories from added sugar, with the average boy consuming 34 teaspoons and the average girl consuming 24 teaspoons of added sugar daily, according to Federal surveys. Younger children, too, have diets far sweeter than desirable: 6- to 11-year-olds get 18 percent of their calories from added sugars” (Brody, 7). Yikes, these numbers do not look good when trying to promote nutrition, but how does one teach children to eat things like vegetables?
Some children do not like to eat the vegetables that are given to them because they are not quite sure what is in the mushroom surprise. A lot of children just do not like school lunches, while others really enjoy them. Some may think that they are fattening, rubber in them, too greasy and unhealthy. While others find them more convenient, taking some chaos out of their morning routine, since they do not need to pack a lunch, or worry about what to eat. Nancy Polk, for the New York Times, wrote why in the past 5 years, the regulations for the School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children needed to be put in effect. This drastically changed the way we feed American youth. They specifically looked at making the United States Dietary Guidelines mandatory in school meals. Prior to that they were only recommended. Many schools did a good job of complying, but since they were not required, many did not involve it into their system (Polk, 3).
The Dietary Guidelines include rules that keep fat to 30 percent or less of the total calories, saturated fat to less than 10 percent, and to eating more fruits vegetables and grain products . This also means more variety. They also look at sodium, fiber and cholesterol. “They have really revamped the whole system to make school meals healthy for kids” (Polk, 3).
Nancy Polk seems to believe that school lunch is headed in the right direction, while Robert Gottlieb for The Los Angeles Times, claims that “school lunches consist of high-sugar, high-caffeine and high-fat foods.” Although, all of the types of foods that I just listed taste good, they can shorten attention spans and impede learning. More lasting problems can also arise if children consistently eat the wrong types of foods at school.
In New York it is claimed that the foods being served in schools is healthy, Los Angeles is claiming that too many foods consisting of high-sugar, caffeine and fat are being served. Maybe each state or district should be examined on the foods being served there. This way problems can be conquered as to which school districts need more money in order to serve better food. We might be able to hypothesize that the eastside of the nation has a better handle on school lunch than the westside.
Congress created the National School Lunch Program 50 years ago as a “measure of national security, to safeguard the health and well-being of the Nation’s children.” During World War 2 while they were drafting men, they found that they had to turn away many young men because of serious nutritional deficiencies. The NSLP was determined to provide the opportunity for children across the United States to receive at least one healthful meal every school day (Food and Consumer Service, 2). I thought that my school lunch was bad, obviously it has come quite a way because I was never left feeling malnourished.
The NSLP provided meals to 26.1 million children in 1998. Over 93,000 schools currently participate in the National School Lunch Program. About 95 percent of all elementary and secondary school students partake in school lunches. Where does the money come from in order for schools to provide nutritious meals at low cost? Why the federal government of course. In 1997, the federal cost for the National School Lunch Program was $5.5 million. If you ask me, it’s a small price to pay for the education and well being of our children (Food and Consumer Service, 3).
No matter what the school-based program is for school lunches, they can all “play an important role in promoting lifelong healthy eating” (Journal of School Health, 9). Diet influences the potential for learning as well as health. Healthy eating from preschool to the 12th grade is very important, because the effects it has on the “health, growth and intellectual development” of our youth (Journal of School Health, 9). The effects of unhealthy eating patterns include undernutrition, iron deficiency anemia, and overweight and obesity. Even just a little bit of undernutriton can have a lasting effect on a child’s thinking skills. They can attain lower scores on standardized achievement tests, especially those on language ability.
I hate feeling hungry, when you get cranky and then begin to feel sick. When you become “so hungry you could eat a horse,” because your stomach is telling you that you need to eat. What would it be like if you couldn’t answer the call of your stomach? “Reports have estimated that millions of U.S. children experience hunger over the course of a year, but no scientific consensus currently exists on how to define or measure hunger” (Journal of School Health, 9). Living in a great country like we do, no one should go hungry. Especially not children.
“Breakfast is back,” in a big way advertisers are trying to make breakfast a staple in children’s lives. Not only does this sell their product, but breakfast makes children smarter. If you could include one thing in your child’s school day that would boost his or her chances of achieving higher grades on tests, what would you add? An hour long tutoring session? Maybe a computer-assisted learning program? Instead of relying on these expensive programs, why not make breakfast a consistent part of their school day? We have known for years that breakfast is the most important meal of the day, but now “we have proof that breakfast and learning go hand in hand in the educational process” (Friedman, 219).
Besides academic improvements, eating breakfast can also help to suppress some behavioral problems at school. Students who skip breakfast may be more easily distracted in the classroom and become more irritable and disruptive. They may also complain more often of headaches, stomach pains and nausea. It is no wonder the nurse’s office is a hectic place in the morning hours, up to 25 percent of children skip breakfast each day! Of the children who do eat breakfast, up to two-thirds prepare their own breakfast, resulting in a meal of questionable nutritional quality (Friedman, 219).
To help combat the problem, 70, 000 schools in the United States offer a convenient, affordable, nutritious breakfast each day for students unable or unwilling to eat at home before boarding the school bus. School breakfast has been judged to be nutritionally superior to many home-prepared morning meals. Like the School Lunch Program, the “School Breakfast Program was originally instituted in 1966 in response to evidence of malnutrition among children from low-income families in the United States” (Friedman, 219).
Nutrition for America’s youth has come a long way since the first finding of malnutrition in our schools in World War 2. Yet, we still have a long way to go if we want to instill good eating habits for life. Life-long learning and health have been proven to go hand in hand, teaching our children to eat well is just as important as teaching them to read. This might be the key to unlocking a whole new power. A power for learning. A power that will someday set the standard for the world in which we live.
Brody, Jane. “Increasingly, America’s Sweet Tooth Is Tied to Sour Health.” New York Times. New York. September 21, 1999.
Friedman, BJ. “Nutrient Intake of Children Eating School Breakfast.” American Dietetic Association. Journal of the American Dietetic Association. Chicago. February 1999.
Gottlieb, Robert. “The State: In Reforming Schools, Don’t Forget Students’ Stomachs.” The Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles. California. December 27, 1998.
“Guidelines for School Health Programs to Promote Lifelong Healthy Eating.” Journal of School Health. Washington D.C. January 1997, Vol. 67, No. 1.
“Healthy School MealsHealthy Kids! A Leadership Guide for School Decision-Makers.” Food and Consumer Service (USDA). Washington D.C. 1997.
Polk, Nancy. “Better School Lunches, Fitter Children.” New York Times. New York. February 21, 1999.