Raised by a working mother, buying school lunches in the school cafeteria was a given. I am pretty sure that my mother never knew nor cared that I ate peanut butter and jelly on white bread every day throughout my 6 years of elementary school, except on Thursdays. Thursday was pizza day which couldn’t hold a candle to peanut butter and jelly. She didn’t care because a. nutrition was much less a topic of discussion in the 70’s and b. we had a relatively nutritious sit-down family dinner every night. In addition, thinking about my High School graduation class of 250 students, only about 5 were thought of as “fat” and by today’s standards would be considered “average”. We were getting plenty of outside play and ate very little processed or fast food short of the occasional TV dinner.
Alas, as we all know, times have changed on every level. Obesity rates have more than doubled in adults and children since the 1970’s (National Center for Health Statistics, 2009) and more than two-thirds of U.S. adults are overweight or obese as well as 17% of children between the ages of 2-19. 50 million Americans eat a fast food meal every day! (statisticbrain.com) A large amount of our daily intake is in the form of microwavable, instant, prepared food. Many have no concept of what a nutritionally dense meal is since “if it is in the supermarket, it must have FDA approval and therefore, must be good for me.”
In comes Michelle Obama who successfully lobbied the school nutrition bill in 2010 to Congress. This bill calls for serving more whole grains, less sodium, using eggs, tofu, or nuts as meat substitutes, and assuring that fresh fruits and vegetables are part of the standard school lunch. On the surface, this sounds like a great start for increasing health and decreasing obesity in the U. S. But, how have the changes stood up in reality?
Although a full nation study has yet to be done, what is known thus far is that results are mixed. Some schools claim that students are excited to try healthier fare or a new fruit. Others state that the only thing filling up on healthier food is school garbage cans. Many schools say that the new regulations costs more and the cooks have not been adequately trained to make whole grains or less sodium use palatable to the average student used to a drinking coca cola and eating donuts. Some schools have even proposed installing surveillance cameras to get a true understanding of what is being eaten and what is a waste of precious resources. ABC News has reported that students throw away twice as much food now as they did before the nutritional program was implemented.
I give Michelle Obama credit for trying to improve our nation’s health by starting with our children. After all, they are our future. But, perhaps this program was too much too fast. We are a fast-food nation who is used to eating enormous amounts of sugar and fat-often without even being aware of it. Perhaps we need to start someplace else, like educating parents’ about nutrition and what food labels mean, encouraging healthy food in and out of our homes, and rewarding people for increasing exercise in their daily lives.
I would love to hear from you. What are your experiences with the new school food standards? What do you think it will take to raise a healthier next generation?