Do you remember what you used to eat for lunch at the school cafeteria? While you may have some great cafeteria stories to tell of your own—Mystery-Meat Fridays, Sloppy-Joe Tuesdays, etc.—you…

healthy school lunches
Photo by Meriwether Lewis Elementary School / CC BY-NC-ND

America’s Push for Healthy School Lunches

Do you remember what you used to eat for lunch at the school cafeteria? While you may have some great cafeteria stories to tell of your own—Mystery-Meat Fridays, Sloppy-Joe Tuesdays, etc.—you probably cringe at the thought of your child eating those same foods.

Legislators took this into consideration and in 2010 passed the “Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act” as a way to improve those cafeteria standards so children get the nutrition they need.

If you’ve been following the progress of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, it may not surprise you to hear that this law has been received in vastly different ways.  This article is not meant to take sides in this critical debate, but to describe the progress and the impact this act has had in the past couple of years as well as lay out some possibilities we may want to consider.

Where It All Began

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act was passed on December 13, 2010, and went into effect in 2012. In short, this bill acts to improve child nutrition in schools. One of its major initiatives is to require more fruit, vegetables and whole grains in school meals and less sodium, sugar and fat.

A more detailed breakdown of this bill can be found at the Food Research and Action Center.

How It Has Been Received by Parents and Schools

Girl Eating Healthy School Lunches

Photo by U.S. Department of Agriculture / CC BY-ND

Some parents agree that this law has definitely improved their child’s health. Their kids are getting more nutritional meals throughout the day and have had a boost of energy that wasn’t there before. Additionally, this law has helped kids whose parents’ income or circumstances don’t allow them to receive enough food throughout the day.

Other parents argue their children aren’t getting enough food with this new law. Additional research and guidelines may be needed to address this issue. Because the law focuses on how many calories students are getting and not on the quality of the calories, students who require more calories (particularly student athletes) are often going hungry with the limited amount of food on their plate.

Schools have been struggling to implement the new guidelines successfully. Many students aren’t buying the healthier lunches, which is causing them to lose money. Additionally, some schools haven’t quite figured out how to replace unhealthy food with healthy food, leaving some students to stare in shock at a lonely tortilla with one slice of ham and a thin slice of cheese on their plate.

Further research and instruction may be needed to continue to improve the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act so students receive the nutrition and energy-boost they need to get them through the school day.

Things to Consider As We Move Forward

As this is a new initiative, and one that hasn’t received complete backing, there’s still room for improvement. Let’s look at schools in France, for instance, and what they do to improve their children’s health. A few of the key observations found in this article that we might do well to learn from include:

    • Making nutritious foods look appealing. There are some healthy foods that don’t look very appealing, but there are many that don’t look too bad and most kids would be more willing to try them. If they’re still resistant, creating fun pictures with their food to make the meal look more exciting is always an option.
    • Giving children plenty of food to eat; not limiting the calories but paying attention to what kinds of calories they’re getting. For a while, dieting was all about your calorie-intake. And while that’s still an important part of it, it’s not everything. What’s more important is what calories you’re consuming, and that goes for kids, too!
    • Thinking of physical activity as an important part of their health. In France, children get three recesses scheduled throughout the school day—one 15-minute break, an hour-long recess and another 15-minute break. Some may say this pulls them away from learning, but it’s possible this method may help them be more focused in the classroom.

    • Transportation to and from school. In France, many children bike and walk to school. While this clearly isn’t a possibility for everyone, it makes you wonder if there are programs and initiatives that can be established to allow children more exercise time to and from school.

These aren’t hard and fast rules, and not ones that can be easily implemented, but they do get you thinking of other ways we can help our kids live healthier lives throughout the day.

Steps to Take as Parents

In the meantime, as we continue to sort out how to make healthy eating a viable option in schools, consider these steps you can take:

Step One: Send healthy school lunches with your kids. If the school your child attends hasn’t quite figured out the logistics of offering good, filling, nutritional food to students in their school, send them packed lunches for the time being.

Step Two: If your school does offer good, healthy lunches, but they aren’t very filling for your child (some athletes need more calories than other students), send them additional healthy snacks they can have throughout the day or with their lunch.

Step Three: Be sympathetic and understanding of your child’s school faculty, but also don’t be afraid to open a discussion about this with them and help them brainstorm ideas for getting good, healthier food in schools that’s filling to each student.

Conclusion

It’s an important initiative—getting healthier food into our children’s school cafeterias—but one that still needs improvement.

What are your thoughts on this law? Are you for it, against it, have additional thoughts as to how it can be improved?

Natasha is 1Dental’s managing editor and copywriter, focusing content on dental and health news, advice and tips. She graduated from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in Journalism and Mass Communication and has since been a book editor and now copywriter and managing editor on dental and health. You can find her on Google+ and on all of 1Dental’s social networks.

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