Why School Lunch Matters (Even If Your Child Doesn’t Eat It!)
|August 14, 2014||Posted by Stacy under Improving school food, Making change, Obesity, School food, School lunch, USDA policy|
Chances are, you’ve heard about about the highly publicized school food fight going on in our nation’s capital. If so, you probably know that the school meal standards issued with the Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 (HHFKA) are now on the chopping block. Under the regulations, championed by First Lady Michelle Obama, schools participating in the National School Lunch Program are required to serve up fruits, vegetables and whole grains in place of foods heavy in fat, sugar and sodium. It’s part of a nationwide effort to get kids eating healthier and battle high rates of childhood obesity and associated health problems.
But now, those standards are at risk of being rolled back via agriculture spending bills in both the House and the Senate. (The bills are currently stalled and it is unclear what the process will be moving forward.). The School Nutrition Association, which represents school cafeteria workers and originally supported the HHFKA standards, is asking for waivers that would allow schools to opt out. Children nutrition advocates are rightly concerned that waivers and other changes to the agriculture bills would weaken laws designed to curtail the obesity and diabetes epidemic. (Click here to hear what school food reform pioneer Chef Ann Cooper has to say about it.).
Why Should We Care?
Not long ago, I was a mom who didn’t pay attention to what was happening in our school cafeteria. After all, I send my kids to school with fresh, wholesome lunches that I get up at the crack of dawn to prepare. I do it because I care about what they eat. I do it because I know the impact of good nutrition on their ability to learn, their behavior and their health. I do it because I can.
But not all families can afford to pack their own healthy lunches from home. For far too many kids, school lunch is the only solid meal that they get all day. And those children need a nutritious meal just as much, if not more, than anyone. We cannot forget about them.
There are other reasons why parents should be concerned about school lunch, even if our own kids don’t buy and eat it.
The school lunch standards are an important step in the national food movement and the fight against child obesity. While they may not be perfect, even an incremental improvement in school food has the potential to benefit our schools, our communities and our nation. What’s more, healthier school meals can help our efforts to teach our kids good eating habits.
Bottom line: The food being served in school cafeterias can influence what ALL kids view as an appropriate way to eat. If healthy meals filled with fruits, veggies and whole grains are the norm, children (including our own) are more likely to eat them. If, on the other hand, schools go back to serving nothing but chicken fingers and pizza, it could make it harder to teach them to love fresh, wholesome food.
“If junk food rules the lunchroom, parents who want to pack healthy meals risk having their kids marginalized,” explained Nancy Becker, MS, RDN, nutrition policy manager for the Center for Science in the Public Interest, in an email interview. “Parents also can feel pressure to dumb down home-packed lunches. (I know I did.). Kids shouldn’t be divided into the ‘healthy eating kids’ versus the ‘school lunch kids’–it should all be healthy, variations on the same theme, so to speak.”
As for all those claims that kids are refusing to eat the healthier meals, schools are losing money and food is being wasted? Not the case, according to this USDA school meal fact sheet.
What You Can Do to Help #SaveSchoolLunch!
Right now, the House and Senate agriculture spending bills are both stalled, but they could come up for a vote at any time this fall. So please sign this petition to voice your support for the HHFKA school meal nutrition standards. And join any efforts to improve school food in your local community. Our kids–and that means ALL kids–need and deserve more than pizza and hot dogs.