Fixing the School Lunch: How Hard Can It Be?

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School lunches are certainly the hot button issue sweeping the country these days. They’ve become quite the target of blame for the childhood obesity crisis. But are they responsible? Or are they just one piece of the puzzle (or pie since we are talking about food)? And if they do carry even some of the blame, isn't it a no brainer to make them healthier? If you are at all interested in this topic, have concerns about what your child’s school is serving for lunch or any interest in making changes to the school lunch program, check out the August 20th article in the New York Times, The School Lunch Test by Lisa Belkin.
Warning: the article is a little on long side but worth the read (it’s got to be if I’m steering you to another writer’s column). Belkin does a great job of laying out the complexities of what it takes to design a healthier school lunch program and the obstacles that can get in the way (yours truly worked with the Los Angeles Unified School District to pass the landmark food and beverage policies "The Healthy Beverage Resolution" and the "Obesity Prevention Motion", which eliminated the sale of unhealthful soft drinks and snacks on all district campuses; and let me tell you they were neither easy to pass nor implement!). She profiles a couple of districts across the country currently trying to make changes for the better and some of the difficulties they are facing.
One of the major issues most folks aren’t aware of is that the school meal program (many districts serve both lunch and breakfast) is not funded by a district’s budget. Instead school food services must operate independently as a business. It’s their job to stay out of the red and in the black. They have to at least break even to keep the meal program going. At the same time they must meet nutritional guidelines set by the United States Department of Agriculture. These include guidelines for calories, fat, saturated fat, protein, iron, vitamin A, calcium and vitamin C. School food service directors are often caught between a rock and a hard place, loaded with the task of providing both a complete meal that meets nutrient guidelines, and one that the kids will eat and buy. If the kids don’t buy it, they don’t make money and there goes school lunch.
We won’t get anywhere even with the healthiest of lunches if kids don’t eat them. So what is the solution? How can we get our kids to accept healthier options? What will it take? Do we need more nutrition education in the classroom (YES YES YES)? Should teachers and administrators act as ‘healthy eating’ role models? Take a look at the article and send me your opinions and comments. What do you think it will take to make healthy changes in the school lunch program happen?
I look forward to hearing from you :) Here’s the link:
http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/20/magazine/20lunches.html?_r=1&oref=slogin
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About the Author

Registered dietitian Andrea N. Giancoli is a nutrition advocate, consultant and educator.

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