Posted tagged ‘school lunches’

Washington D.C. Council Approves Stricter School Lunch and Exercise Standards

May 6, 2010

Things have been pretty hectic around here lately, what with the SIX doctor appointments I have this week, so I’ve been kind of slacking on the blogging front.  I read an interesting story about a possible improvement to school lunches, though, so here is a quick review.

The article, from the Washington Post, reports that the Washington D.C. Council approved stricter school lunch and exercise standards for the school district.

In particular, the standard requires public and charter schools in the district to add more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole grains to school meals. In addition, the standard encourages schools to buy their food from organic farms, and to triple the amount of time that students spend exercising. The schools are also required to serve a different fruit and vegetable every day, to only offer low-fat or nonfat milk and whole grains, to ban trans fats, and to limit sodium and saturated fats.

While the measure is definitely a huge step in the right direction, it does fall flat on a couple of levels. In particular, the original measure also limited calories in the meals, but this stipulation was removed at the request of the USDA, even though the Institute of Medicine issued guidelines last fall that recommended calorie limitations.  You might remember from my first post about school lunches that the USDA establishes a minimum requirement for calories, but no maximum. My guess is that the USDA does not want to limit calories because this could potentially limit the amount of food purchased as part of the school lunch program. Luckily, the article reports that health professionals and nutrition advocates are working to get federal calorie limits lowered.

In addition, the measure limits milk to low-fat and nonfat, but does not restrict flavored milks. And we all know that 2% milk, so-called “low-fat,” is actually not low in fat at all. In fact, a half-pint serving of 2% white milk contains 120 calories and a full 5 grams of fat – a whole fat serving. In comparison, the same amount of skim milk contains 80 calories and no fat, while still providing the same amount of Vitamins A, D, C, and Iron as its 2% brother.

The measure also does not re-define a vegetable. So it seems that corn, peas, beans, and potatoes will still qualify as vegetables and will meet the new requirements as long as they are fresh.

Perhaps the most troubling issue is that the council has not yet decided how to pay for the upgrades to the lunch program. Estimated at nearly $6 million per year, the sponsor of the legislation, Mary M. Cheh, proposed a one-cent per ounce tax on canned and bottled soda to cover the increased costs. This tax would generate $16 million annually, but was rejected by other council members.

Nevertheless, it goes without saying that fresh fruits and vegetables, lower-fat animal products, reduced-sodium meals, and the return of exercise to the curriculum are definite improvements over the status quo. Hopefully the D.C. school district will succeed with this measure, and more schools will follow suit.


Healthy School Meals Act: More of the Same

April 21, 2010

Mrs. Q over at Fed Up with School Lunch: The School Lunch Project has been getting a lot of press lately about her attempt to chronicle her year of school lunches. As the school lunch debate continues to heat up, so do the comments and commentaries on her blog. I’m amazed that she has managed to stay anonymous for so long. I hope she’s able to make it all year without being outed.

Recently, she posted about the Healthy School Meals Act of 2010. On the surface, this sounds like a great plan. Even the name of the plan sounds good – how could you go wrong with healthy school lunches? That’s what we all want, right?

But, I took a look at the plan, and now I am not so sure. The plan is less about a well-balanced, calorie-appropriate meal for our children and more about plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy. According to the program’s website, the act would

improve children’s eating patterns by encouraging the inclusion of healthful plant-based options in the National School Lunch and Breakfast Programs. This important legislation will introduce plant-based foods to schools, increase the availability and affordability of these foods, and provide incentives for schools to provide daily plant-based options.

Don’t get me wrong, there is merit in a vegetarian diet and lifestyle, and one can definitely eat a varied and balanced diet while avoiding meat and dairy. But this proposal does not seem to give much guidance in terms of which plant-based items to include on our children’s trays. What, exactly, is “healthful?” And what makes this group think that plant-based options are not already on school trays? Many of the items we detest … white bread, soy fillers in the meats, breadings and coatings on the “nuggets” and “patties”, white potatoes in all of their many forms, other starchy vegetables like corn, and peas, and canned, syrup-laden fruits appear regularly on school lunch trays today, and they are all plant-based.

Given that the current National School Lunch Program considers canned baked beans, frozen French fries, and instant mashed potatoes in the vegetable category, I shudder at the thought of what my child’s tray would look like if his school opted to replace the meat and dairy options with plant-based options. I’m picturing trays loaded with white bread, rice, pasta, frozen potatoes, and canned corn. Sure, the website suggests soy milk instead of cow’s milk, but what’s to stop a school from replacing the cow’s milk with calcium-fortified orange juice or, worse yet, calcium-fortified “orange drink?” And what’s wrong with skim white milk, anyway?

These plant-based alternatives are some of the cheapest foodstuffs out there. Seeing as our schools are struggling to find enough money to feed our children, it only makes sense that these are the types of foods they would migrate too. Goodbye chocolate milk and chicken nuggets, hello French fries and white bread.

The problem with school lunches today is not hard to recognize; it’s a lack of balance. What our children need is a healthy, balanced meal, complete with fiber-rich carbs, lean proteins, and vitamin-dense fruits and vegetables. Simply replacing one food group with another is not the answer here. The answer is switching from calorie-dense, nutrient-poor foods to lower-calorie, nutrient-rich ones. We need to replace the French fries and baked beans with REAL vegetables – green beans, tomatoes, broccoli, and spinach, for example. Get rid of the soy-filled and artery-clogging “hamburgers” in favor of lean protein alternatives like chicken breast, ham,  white turkey meat, and low-fat yogurts and cheeses. And beans are a great source of protein, but they are not a protein exchange (or a vegetable exchange for that matter.) We need to count the carbohydrates in those black bean burgers … and those cups of baked beans.


Healthy School Lunches, by the Physicians Committee for Responsible Medicine,

News Tidbits: School Lunches, Pregnancy, and Insulin Pumps

March 18, 2010

There’s not a lot new happening on the pregnancy front with me this week. My hips still hurt, my appetite is still out of control, and my belly is still growing.

Instead of posting more of the same, I thought I would share some interesting news tidbits I’ve gathered off the Web lately.

Here they are, in no particular order.

There are a lot of people getting into the School Lunch act. In particular, these two blogs seem particularly noteworthy.

Fed Up With School Lunch: The School Lunch Project,

Mrs. Q is a teacher in Illinois who is eating the school lunch everyday and reporting on her experiences. Needless to say, the experiences are rarely positive. It looks like she’s getting a fair amount of traffic over on her blog, and she has recently lined up some impressive guest bloggers including other teachers from all over the world (including an American who teaches in Japan,) fed up parents, a Food Service Director, and a student journalist who plans to fill us in on the goings-on in the world of school lunches. Pretty neat stuff!

School Lunch Found Guilty,
This blog is manned by a 6th grade class in Queens, NY. They are documenting their daily school lunch, along with their impressions of it, in the hope of making improvements. As you might suspect, they tend to turn their noses up at the overcoked vegetables and the cold lasagna, but they are surprisingly receptive to the fresh fruit. Here’s hoping their blog garners some publicity, and even more important, some improvements in their school lunches!

In Pregnancy news, IBTHealth is reporting that pregnancy does not make you forgetful . Apparently a group of researchers in Australia recently found that the cognitive abilities of pregnant women were no different than those of non-pregnant women. I would call to tell them how wrong they are … if I could just find my phone!

This article in the San Francisco chronicle warns of the risk of Listeria in pregnancy. Apparently the risks are higher than ever thanks to our “ineffective food safety system.” There is currently no requirement that food producers test for harmful bacteria. The House of Representatives passed legistlation to close this loophole last summer, but the Senate has STILL not voted on it. The article goes on to say that while most people, including pregnant women, are immune to Listeria, fetuses are not. Miscarriage or stillbirth is the unfortunate result. I am thinking twice about my cold cut sandwiches now.

On the Diabetes front, you might have already heard that Medtronic MiniMed just got FDA approval for their new Paradigm Revel. I saw the news first over at Diabetes Mine. The Revel is a combination insulin pump and continuous glucose monitor (CGM) that includes new and improved features including mulitple alert settings for the CGM, improved screen navigation, and more precise dosing. Nevertheless, it still does not include the autmatic-suspend feature that their Veo system has. Unfortunately, the Veo is only available in Eurpoe. Seems kind of ironic given the perception in the US that countries with socialized health insurance  systems prevent such innovative technologies from entering their markets …

School Lunches: Hope on the Horizon?

March 3, 2010

If you’ve been following this blog, you are probably already aware of my disdain for school lunches, their lack of nutrients, and their over-abundance of empty calories. And it seems that these unhealthy midday breaks strike a nerve with others, as well. I get a lot of visitors to that post about the dangers of chocolate milk, and I am so happy to know that I am not the only one who sees red when I read the school lunch menu in the local newspaper.

So you can imagine my excitement when I heard that Michelle Obama is tackling the childhood obesity crisis and — even better — that she is targeting school lunches as one of the main ways to combat the epidemic.

On the initiative’s Website, Let’s Move, Mrs. Obama tells us through streaming video (you can read the transcript here) that the goal of the program is to  “solve the epidemic of childhood obesity within a generation.” A commendable, although ambitious goal, if you ask me. The site goes on to say that Let’s Move will accomplish this goal through a four-pronged attack:

  • by providing parents with the support they need
  • by providing healthier food in schools
  • by helping kids become more physically active
  • by making healthy, affordable food available in every part of the country

These all sound like excellent ways to help us fight this epidemic with our children, and the information provided on the site seems like much more than the sound bite or photo op that I expected. We’re talking real resources and information that school officials and even regular citizens like you and me can apply today in our schools and communities. I like it!

For example, in the Healthier Schools section there is link to “How’s My School Doing? The School Health Index.”  The School Health Index, developed by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is a self-assessment and planning guide that schools can use to identify the strengths and weaknesses in their school health policies and programs, develop an action plan for improving their students’ health, and involve teachers, parents, students, and other community members in the improvement process. The index focuses on five health topics, most notably, physical activity and healthy eating.

Another link takes you to the HealthierUS School Challenge, where your school can apply to be recognized for excellence in nutrition and physical education. The site provides criteria, guidelines, and requirements.

Also, under What You Can do In Your Community, there are a number of links to organizations where you can get involved and have a direct impact in your community. For example, the “Help a school get healthy,” link takes you to the Website for the Alliance for a Healthier Generation where you can join the Healthy Schools Program, learn about your school’s “School Wellness Policy,” or join the School Wellness Council.

On the Accessible & Affordable Healthy Food page, there is a link to the Food Environment Atlas where you can use an interactive map to locate “food deserts,” where access to affordable, quality, and nutritious foods is limited,  and get an overview of the food choices, health and well-being, and community characteristics in your community. Pretty cool.

There’s also a great section called Kids Collection, which is full of activity books, games, videos, posters, and magazines all geared towards children and adolescents.

If your interested learning more, you can join the call to action, or you can follow the Let’s Move initiative through their blog, through their Public Service Announcements, on Facebook, or on YouTube.

Pet Peeve: Unhealthy School Lunches

January 6, 2010

Remember school lunches? Do they conjure up memories of “mystery meat” and tater tot casserole? How about mushy canned peas and syrup-laden canned fruits?

When I was in grade school it was so not cool to pack your lunch. Even though the plate lunch was sometimes rather unappetizing, kids would rather buy it and throw it away then be seen carrying a lunchbox or eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

The problem for me was the school lunch menu. So laden with simple carbs, fats, and sugars, my mom refused to let me buy it. Instead, she packed my lunch every morning. And I disdainfully ate the carefully prepared and planned, well-balanced items she sent me to school with.

In those days of NPH and Regular insulins, us diabetics did not simply “bolus” for the carbs and eat whatever we wanted for lunch. Thanks to the peaking effect of NPH insulin, we had to eat a carefully planned lunch exactly 4 hours after our “morning shots.” And forget about an extra shot of regular insulin at noon. I was on a strict two-shots-a-day schedule, so there was no room for adjustment.

And the atrocious school lunch just did not fit into this careful lifestyle. So I watched with envy as my classmates ate peanut butter fudge bars alongside fried chicken sandwiches, buttered white bread, and buttered canned corn. And they washed it all down with chocolate milk. Oh how badly I wanted my own half pint of chocolate milk.

The fact is, I didn’t even like fried chicken sandwiches and I actually really like peanut butter and jelly, but I just wanted so badly to fit in. My Cabbage Patch Kids lunchbox was a screaming target announcing that I was different from the other kids. If only the school would have offered a green salad every now and then!

The unhealthy tradition of school lunches continues here in my neck of the woods. I occasionally glance over the lunch menu in the newspaper and I am floored by the level of fats, carbs, and calories. Not a fresh vegetable or piece of fruit in site. And they still wash it all down with chocolate milk!

I have been arguing against the awful nutrition in school lunches since I was in grade school. My mom recalls proudly the time that I was standing in the lunch line waiting for my (2% white) milk and a looked up at the server, then pointed to all of the items she was dishing out and declared, “Starch, starch, starch, starch.” In junior high and high school, I wrote research papers, persuasive essays, and school newspaper articles about the unhealthy aspects of our school lunches and of the National School Lunch Program. But my voice was just not loud enough. And my friends loved the peanut butter fudge, chocolate milk, and pizza, so their shouts of appreciation drowned me out.

So when I saw this article in Time Magazine (U.S. Schools’ War Against Chocolate Milk ), I was so glad to see that someone with some credibility and power is finally standing up for our children! It seems that a few school dietitians are finally taking a stand, and they are starting with the chocolate milk. Here is an excerpt from the article:

One 8-oz. serving of reduced-fat chocolate milk has nearly as many calories and sugar as a 12-oz. can of Coke. Encouraging students to regularly consume the drink, they say, is contributing to an already worrying childhood obesity crisis.

Ann Cooper, Director of Nutrition Services at Colorado’s Boulder Valley School District points out that If a child chooses chocolate milk instead of regular milk every single day for a year … they’ll gain about 3 lbs. because of the extra sugar and calories. “Over the course of a K-12 education, that can add up …”

Yes! That is what I have been trying to say since grade school! And the problem has only gotten worse in recent years. As our food supply becomes more and more commercialized and as calorie-dense but nutrient-poor foods become cheaper to produce and to purchase, our poorest children are the ones who are suffering the most. A couple of years ago, my husband and I made a concerted effort to switch to more fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and organic proteins. Our grocery bill nearly doubled.

Couple the cost of healthy food and the ever-increasing availability of cheap, unhealthy food with our ever-more sedentary lifestyle, and it is easy to see where the childhood obesity crisis develops. A recent report by the Centers for Disease Control and prevention states that 17% of children in the United States are overweight, a number nearly double the rate in 1965. (See Prevalence of Overweight Among Children and Adolescents: United States, 2003-2004)

And while you might argue that it is not the school’s fault that our children live on fast food and potato chips during their home hours, I would argue that it definitely is the school’s responsibility to offer a healthy, nutritious meal that does not contribute to the problem, especially if they participate in the National School Lunch Program.

Speaking of the National School Lunch Program … The program was founded in 1946 and over 101,000 schools participate. Sadly, the requirements have changed little since the program began. Basically, in exchange for cash subsidies and donated commodities, schools are required to provide a minimum amount of calories, protein, calcium, iron, Vitamin A and Vitamin C over the course of a week. In 1995, they also began to restrict the amount of fat to 30% of the total calories of the meal. Schools must also offer free or reduced price lunches to eligible children (See SUBCHAPTER A—CHILD NUTRITION PROGRAMS PART 210—NATIONAL SCHOOL LUNCH PROGRAM and the National School Lunch Program Fact Sheet)

The catch here, of course, is that there is no maximum allowable amount of each food group or of calories. And carbohydrates don’t appear anywhere in the requirement. So while the school is required to serve at least 667 calories per week to its K-6 grade students, it can offer WAY more calories than that. And as the calorie count goes up, so does the allowable fat amount because the fat restriction is a percentage of the total calories provided.

In 1946, when calorie-dense food was much harder to come by and our children were much more active, this plan might have been a good one. Our children needed more calories in any form. This is not the case anymore, though. The majority of our children today have access to plenty of calories. The problem today is that they are lacking vitamins and nutrients.

As a mother-to-be, it looks like I will be following in my mother’s footsteps, packing a healthy lunch and forbidding my son or daughter from purchasing the school lunch. I guess I can only hope that those dieticians win the chocolate milk war before my kid enters grade school.