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School Lunches Receive Criticism
posted by: Ruthie | October 25, 2012, 08:58 PM   

This year, under First Lady Michele Obama's leadership and the standards of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, schools across the country are implementing the dietary guidelines established by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Such school lunch guidelines include: at least a half serving of whole grains daily; options for fat-free and reduced fat milk; substitutes for meat e.g. tofu, eggs, and nuts; three-fourths to one cup of each fruit and vegetables daily; sodium between 640-740 milligrams depending on grade level; no more than 10% saturated fats daily; and 550-850 calories daily depending on age.

While these dietary guidelines may be well-intentioned, many students, parents, and teachers are less than thrilled with the new standards. Students are taking drastic measures and are often striking against school cafeterias. "We've seen [students] just take the item and just put them in the trash can," said Cecelia Slater, nutrition services director in the Long Beach Unified School District.

Across the country, cafeterias are finding students simply will not eat vegetables. School administrators and nutrition experts echo the sentiment, that while the dietary guidelines are prudential, they are being executed too quickly. Schools are "trying to expose kids to more fruits and vegetables and whole grains; that kind of behavior doesn't happen overnight," said Nicola Edwards, a nutrition policy advocate at California Food Policy Advocates.

Many students, especially athletes, feel the caloric restrictions leave them with a less than optimal ability to compete and practice. "A freshman girl who weighs 100 pounds can eat this lunch and feel completely full, maybe even a little bloated," said Joey Bougneit, a senior in Mukwonago, Wisconsin. "However, 6 foot 3 inch athletes need more sustenance than their schools are providing."

In a USA Today letter to the editor, physician Steven Go of Overland Park, Kansas wrote, "Even children of the same age are not monolithic in terms of their caloric needs, which can vary greatly with physical activity, basal metabolism, and body type."

Parents are also concerned about their children's diets as well, complaining that their children come home and immediately binge on anything they can find in the fridge.

Almost all experts agree that nutrition starts at home. While this may be true, healthy food is simply unaffordable for many families. Maria Setters wrote in USA Today, "When a bag of grapes costs more than a box of Twinkies there's a problem." Experts agree that children learn by example – if they see their parents eating junk, they will follow.

There is no doubt that the obesity epidemic is a serious issue in America. However, healthy eating is a habit that must be practiced. If children refuse to try healthy foods, they are setting themselves up for a lifetime of poor eating habits.

Although the caloric restrictions and drastic change in school lunches, enacted by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, are receiving considerable back lash, their intent is a positive step in raising awareness about healthier eating. Hopefully, over time, schools will learn what works and what should be changed to accommodate flexibility and local needs.

What do you think schools can do to encourage healthy eating?

Comment below.

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