Speak up about unhealthy national school lunches!
Many families choose not to pack their kids’ lunches. These families believe that their kids can get a well balanced meal at schools. Unfortunately, the national school lunch program is not as good as some might think.
The National School Lunch Program was initiated by Congress and signed into law by President Truman 1946. Interestingly enough, the NSLP was developed in part to address the plethora of men who were denied admittance to the US armed forces during World War II draft due to nutritional deficiencies.
Today, the National School Lunch Program provides meals to more than 30 million students nationwide. For those students whose families live below 130 percent poverty level (an income of $27,560 for a family of four), the lunch is free. Those who live between 130 percent and 185 percent poverty level (an income of $39,220) pay a reduced price for lunch, no more than 40 cents. And all others pay full price.
Schools that participate in the NSLP get cash subsidies and commodities from the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) as long as their lunches meet Federal requirements.
According to a USDA Food and Nutrition Service fact sheet, “school lunches must meet the applicable recommendations of the 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, which recommend that no more than 30 percent of an individual’s calories come from fat, and less than 10 percent from saturated fat. Regulations also establish a standard for school lunches to provide one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.”
That means that, overall, school meals are very balanced, according to Alexis Steines, Public Affairs Associate for the School Nutrition Association in Washington DC. “All school meals have to meet strict nutritional values set by the federal government, and there are also requirements that some states put into place over their program.”
The biggest problem, Steines says, is that students can choose food items from the a la carte lines that are not as balanced and nutritious as the actual school meal. “The dietary guidelines for the a la carte line hasn’t been updated since the 1970s,” Steines says. “So students can purchase beverages or snack items that don’t meet the USDA dietary guidelines.”
But Susan Levin, Director of Nutrition Education for the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PRCM), also based out of DC, says there's an even bigger problem than the a la carte line: the food pyramid that school lunch programs follow. Levin says the pyramid, which was created by the USDA, is flawed because it favors the interests of agricultural industry. Specifically, she says, the allowances for fat are too high.
"And eighty percent of schools do not meet the USDA standards for fat composition," Levin says. She explains that in addition to reimbursing schools for a portion of their lunches, the USDA gives the schools overproduced meat and dairy products for free--products that are fat and sugar laden. "The USDA is paying industry--huge corporations--for their overproduced goods," she says.
Children learn and adopt habits early on in life. It is crucial that that children eat meals that are nutritionally balanced. Learning and adopting healthy eating habits will prevent future health problems such as diabetes, obesity, heart disease, etc.
If you have children who are in school, get involved in the schools. Talk to principals, food service directors, and even the superintendent. Petition to get rid of vending machines. Solicit help from national organizations like the School Nutrition Association and the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine; or simply choose to work at the federal level and change what the schools are getting. Get a petition going and take it to your representative; let him or her know that this is the number of people in the district who want to see a change.
For inspiration, visit The Edible Schoolyard’s web site:
www.edibleschoolyard.org/. The Edible Schoolyard is a one-acre garden and kitchen classroom at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School in Berkeley, California. Each student at the school attends 12 to 30 sessions in the kitchen and garden classrooms, depending on grade level, and the program hosts over 1,000 visitors each year and has inspired countless kitchen and garden programs.
http://www.pcrm.org/. Founded in 1985, the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine (PCRM) is a nonprofit organization that promotes preventive medicine, conducts clinical research, and encourages higher standards for ethics and effectiveness in research