As adults, most of us realize that we must follow a well-balanced diet in order for our bodies to perform right. We have heard time and time again that we should eat lean meats, lots of fresh fruit and vegetables, whole grains and limit our intake of saturated fats. And even though we might not always follow this principle, we know that it is what we should be doing.
Well guess what? Children are no different. They too need proper and adequate nutrition to stay energized and focused throughout the day. The only difference is that they may not realize or be given the opportunity to eat the right foods while at school. This is something that has become a rising issue all over the United States, so it is important that we stay informed to make sure school meals maximize your children’s minds and bodies.
What Is in Our Children’s School Meals?
Since the passage of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act in 2010, school meals have drastically changed in the U.S. Replacing canned fruits and vegetables, pizza and french fries with fresh produce, whole grains and lean meats, the act was put in place to help decrease the childhood obesity rates. The First lady Michelle Obama has been the face behind this act by promoting an end to childhood obesity and unhealthy habits with her “Let’s Move Campaign”.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) passed additional requirements in 2011, including caloric restrictions on school meals. These restrictions include the following based on ages:
- Ages 5-10: Elementary students are allowed 350-500 calories for breakfast and 550-650 calories for lunch.
- Ages 11-13: Middle school students are allowed 400-500 calories for breakfast and 600-700 calories for lunch.
- Ages 14-18: High school students are allowed 450-600 calories for breakfast and 750-850 calories for lunch.
What Is the Impact of School Meals?
While the act has helped halt the rise in childhood obesity, it has caused many other problems for schools and children throughout the U.S. Many students complain they either do not get enough food to eat and/or do not like the food provided for school meals. School meals now only offer skim milk or 1% and wheat bread instead of white bread, which are foods that many children are not used to eating.
In addition, since the act does not account for the gender or activity level of students, many male and athletic students are not getting enough to eat at school. Several students leave lunch still feeling hungry, as a result, their energy and attention levels decrease.
Schools have now started complaining about the act, as their students are not eating many of the foods and are often too hungry to learn. Most schools do not have a choice since government funding gives school districts up to six-figure funds for the program. Some wealthier districts, however, do not need the additional funding and have already dropped the program to keep their students happy and well-fed.
What Should We do to Improve Our Children’s School Meals?
The Hunger-Free Kids Act is definitely not perfect, but it does have some good general guidelines. Children should be eating fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains over refined, sodium-laden products. They should also choose to drink skim or low fat milk and wheat over white bread. This part of the act actually promotes healthy and proper nutrition, but most children complain about it because they are not forced to eat the same foods at home. Parents must therefore reinforce these principles at home so that their children will consume and enjoy well-balanced meals at school.
To combat the calorie restrictions and hunger, parents should give their children healthy snacks to keep them fueled throughout the day. Examples of nutritious snacks include dried fruits and nuts, energy bars and peanut butter sandwiches (made with whole wheat bread and all-natural peanut butter). By giving your children healthy snacks to bring to school, they will stay energized and learn the importance of eating healthy, wholesome foods.
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