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School Lunches and Nutrition: Do Children Eat Like Prisoners?

 School Lunches and Nutrition: Do Children Eat Like Prisoners?

It’s school time again! Let’s brush up with some arithmetic problems:

Sadly, as I am sure you already guessed, the answers are not:  ”school lunches” and “nutrition”.  Traditionally, most school lunches parade processed, bleached white breads, which promote poor nutrition and childhood obesity.  Typically, a school lunch meal will only consist of 1/2 to one fruit (if you count the ketchup!)and no veggies.

And one surprise to us? One answer to number 2 is: ammonia.  Yes, that’s right. Ammonia is used in the form of ”pink slime”, which is added to beef by-products like cow intestines and connective tissue in ground beef (sorry for the ick factor). Since these by-products, which are used in most ground beef including that in school lunches, harbor parasites like E. Coli and Salmonella, food manufacturers, including those that make school lunches, add ammonium hydroxide in the form of pink slime to kill them and prevent disease. It does sound like a prisoner’s sentencing, for certain. In fact, from a nutrition standpoint, prisoners might make out better than your kids do with school lunches. That’s why it’s important for us all to teach our kids to keep their lips’ sealed when they see these nutrition thieves at lunchtime.

Good nutrition in school lunches promotes a healthy weight and helps kids get the vitamins they need from their foods. Childhood obesity has more than tripled in the last 30 years. In 2008, more than one third of children and teens were overweight or obese. Worse yet, less than ten percent of teens eat the right amounts of fruits and vegetables each day. Poor nutrition and/or childhood obesity can result in heart disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, joint and bone problems, and low self-esteem. Getting enough nutrition may help reduce ADHD symptoms, improve concentration and memory, and reduce childhood obesity.

We tend to look to our government to regulate programs over which we have no control, like school lunches.  Until recently, the USDA (who regulates the meat and poultry industries) and the FDA (who handles all other foods) has concerned itself only with food safety, not quality. 

The Richard B. Russell National School Lunch Act (NSLA), however, requires that school meals reflect the latest Dietary Guidelines. In 2011, the USDA was forced to modify school lunches as part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010. In 2012, the following guidelines were established, to reduce childhood obesity and enhance nutrition at school:

These measures remain mandatory starting July 2012, although several components (offering all whole grains and reducing sodium) will be implemented more gradually over three to ten years.

It’s clear that the USDA’s plan is a good start.  But the pink slime and high fructose corn syrup?  So far, the USDA’s lips are sealed and so we continue trying to teach our kids what to leave on the plate when it comes to school lunch.

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