Friday, June 17, 2011

School Lunches: Whose Job Is It to Feed Our Kids?

The House Appropriations Committee and the USDA are trying to decide how much money they are going to grant our children for school meals. The Committee’s proposal would be to increase the amount for breakfast and lunches by 50 and 14 cents, respectively. This increase would reflect on the parents and require the schools to cut other costs. American schools have been trimming employees and programs for years now and cannot afford to cut corners anywhere else. Lynn Woolsey, a member of congress, argues that it is vital the nutrient content meets the dietary guidelines that are currently established. The current meals children are receiving are high in saturated fat, salt, and sugar. For some students, lunch is the only meal they will consume during the day. For it to be against all dietary regulations is damaging the health of our next generation.

The goal of changing school meals is to teach kids the right way to eat since it is a staple in their daily routine. Lunch time is a social setting to eat and exercise. Some kids may love Fridays because it means pizza day.They are eating a very unhealthy pizza and celebrate it with a soda or sugary drink, reinforcing the idea that this nutrition is okay. It is only fueling the childhood obesity epidemic. With the new regulations, foods with high amounts of fat, salt and sugar would be taken out. Pizza, frozen fruits with added sugar, high salt tater tots, and chicken nuggets would be released from the monthly menu.

Comments on this story argue an interesting statement. Who’s responsibility is it to feed our kids of the nation? Is it the parents’ job to pack a healthy lunch and teach their children about why they are eating a fresh grilled chicken wrap instead of pizza? Or is it the government’s job to teach our children about nutrition during lunch time by feeding them appropriate nutrient dense meals? Most parents are paying for school lunches one way or another. The problem is with the families who don’t have money to pack a healthy lunch, hand their child 1.25 to buy a meal that will be full of fat, salt, and sugar. We all know you get what you pay for.

If you go to a fast food place and hand over 1.25 you are getting a previously frozen patty with preservatives, enriched grain bun, with genetically engineered iceberg lettuce and tomato on top. Plus, don’t forget the fattening mayonnaise and sugar filled ketchup. For one more dollar you can get a starchy and fatty fried potato side, with absolutely no fiber or nutrients. This is what the kids are paying for and this is what they are getting. On the hand if you spend around $7.00 a meal you can get organic baby field lettuces and other vegetables, on top of a whole grain bread, and freshly grilled chicken strips- full of nutrients.

So how can we expect the government to feed our kids something so nutrient dense in school when we can’t even find a way to produce this meal at home? Should they be getting a major discount on organic, fresh, nutrient-dense, foods since they are the big guys? When it comes down to it, whose job is it to feed our kids?

Personally, I think the federal government should have a definite role in giving more money to our schools. It is the local schools’ job to manage the budget and figure out where they want to place the money. If they choose to grow their own local school garden, and possibly feed the kids from it- fantastic! But if they are a lower budget school (which shouldn’t exist because all schools should be getting the same amount of money) then they might have to budget their money towards desks and books before focusing on planting vegetables. When I have children, I will definitely pack their school lunch, but also keep in mind they still have the ability to “trade out” their healthy snacks for donuts or cookies from another student. It is the parents job to instill in the children the importance of a healthy meal and how it makes them have a healthier mind and body. The schools should back this education up with classroom activities that center around health, possibly incorporating it into a math or science lesson. Count how many vegetables you need a day for kindergarteners. Figure out the biology of a banana rotting for a compost for eighth graders. Maybe that will inspire them to ask more questions about nutrition, and bring home the idea to their parents if they are not instilling it in the first place.

School lunch is a huge deal right now, just look at Jamie Oliver. He has a whole television show focused on revolutionizing it. The thing he doesn’t have is enough money to give to every school to have their own garden or local food source, on top of enough time for the staff to assemble thousands of healthy meals before lunch time. So if you have kids in school, I’d suggest making the time the night before to sit down with them, make a healthy meal, and teach them something new about nutrition, before they head off to the pizza line.

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