School lunches have changed since you were a kid — in some ways for the better, but now, maybe for the worse. A fact that should give parents pause: over 10 million students are at risk to develop some type of diet-related disease. So how and why have school lunch nutrition standards occurred?
The United States Department of Agriculture is allowing the 100,000 school cafeterias in America to relax the nutritional standards set for school lunches. The current standards were established in 2010 through the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act based on recommendations from experts, such as nutritionists and pediatricians. Guidelines included requiring more fruits, vegetables
“The changes require that half of the weekly grains in the school lunch and breakfast menu be whole grain-rich, thus allowing schools to use fewer products meeting 50% whole wheat,” Grace Perry, RD, Field Manager with Action for Healthy Kids tells Parentology.
This month, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) eased up on school lunch restrictions in a big way. Now allowed: refined grains, additional sodium and sugary, flavored milks.
Perry explains whole grains are a good source of fiber, with the nutrients present in whole grains lowering the risk of heart disease and
What Are The Consequences?
“According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), nine out of 10 children consume more than the recommended amounts of sodium daily, and one in six children have high blood pressure,” Perry says. Excessive sodium intake can cause high blood pressure, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease and stroke.
“The changes in the rules allow schools to continue to exceed sodium levels in food beyond what government nutrition guidelines state as being safe, which poses a significant health threat to children over the long-term.”
It’s also important for kids to learn to consume healthy foods at school. They’ll grow to find them enjoyable, and that increases the likelihood of them making [healthy] choices at home or in restaurants.
What Can Parents Do?
According to Perry, the schools that implemented changes to meet the guidelines of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act will hopefully continue to do so, considering the positive benefits of those changes.
“Because the school district dictates food and nutrition policies at the school building level, it can be difficult to influence school meals,” Perry explains. “However, concerned parents can get involved and make a difference.”
Perry recommendations for parents, “They should start or join a health team at their child’s school, talk to their principals about concerns, and get to know the nutrition and
Families can also make a point of encouraging healthy foods at home whenever possible or partner with third-party organizations such as Action for Healthy Kids to advocate for healthy change in schools.
Finally, this fall, a process known as the Child Nutrition Reauthorization (CNR) will update laws regarding child nutrition programs. Before CNR takes place, ask Congress to require school meals to line up with the national Dietary Guidelines.