Info 101 – School Lunches, Obesity, and the Obamas, Too

Along with our collective lack of exercise, also gaining attention for some time now are the lunches served at our nation’s schools. One glance at the typical fare tells it all: chicken fries, taco boat, meatball grinder, pizza, cheeseburger… You get the idea.

Nevertheless, these choices fall within the parameters dictated by the Nutritional Requirements of School Lunches and meeting the recommendations of the applicable 1995 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. This means that no more than 30% of calories can come from fat and less than 10% can come from saturated fat. Moreover, school lunches must provide 1/3 of the Recommended Dietary Allowances of protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories.

Meanwhile, a U.S. Senate committee just cleared a bill asking for an increase in school lunch funding for the first time in 40 years and calling for higher nutrition standards, as well as school food safety measures. Stay tuned.

The Institute of Medicine’s report, “School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children,” has made these school food recommendations:

– Up the veggies to three-fourths of a cup a day for elementary and middle school kids and one cup a day for high schoolers.

– Provide at least one-half a cup every week of leafy greens, orange veggies, such as sweet potatoes and carrots), and beans.

– Decrease offerings of such starchy veggies as potatoes.

– Offer more fruit and allow no more than half of that fruit to be in juice form.

– Replace whole and 2% milk with 1% and skim milk.

– See that at least half of served grains and breads are whole grain.

– Reduce sodium content from the current 1,600 mg in a typical high schooler’s lunch to 740.

Enter Michelle Obama. Her mission this year is addressing our kids’ nutritional well-being and the obesity epidemic. School breakfast and lunch programs are in her sights, as are food producers and fast-food chains.

No wonder.

Some 31 million children participate in the National School Lunch Program with another 11 million in the breakfast program, both federally assisted.

Plus, children’s consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages is up, and we all know you can’t eat just one chip. Speaking of salty and sugary temptations, 98% of our children nowadays eat such snacks-on average, three times a day.

Moreover, researchers at Children’s Hospital Boston found that about one-third of our four- to 19-year-olds eat fast food and thus gain about six extra pounds every year.

We should not be surprised, then, that the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says 16% to 33% of our children are obese. Moreover, an obese adolescent has an 80% chance of growing into an obese adult.

With such good cause for concern, the First Lady is giving televised interviews and presentations at such venues as the School Nutrition Association, while her “Let’s Move” websiteis also making a buzz. Among its offerings for parents are “simple ways to make healthy choices for your family,” along with the latest news in nutrition, school meal programs, and making a difference, school- and community-wise.

Lending support, the President joined forces with her at the annual White House egg rolling event, which dates back to 1878 and President Hayes. Its “Ready, Set, Go!” theme was aimed at teaching children to “learn about beginning to live a more healthy life,” and offered such activities as yoga and gardening.

However, even with all these organizations and government entities offering advice, cautionary tales, recommendations, and free-to-everyone, fun-filled events, given that 55% of globally surveyed respondents say they eat whatever they want, whenever they want, all those good efforts can only go so far.

In the end, let’s face it: it all begins at home.

We’re the first line of defense, so it’s up to us to see to our children’s-and our own-nutritional needs and choices. Instead of relying on and worrying about debatable school lunch offerings, we can always put together a sandwich filled with a few slices of low-fat deli fare or spread some peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread. Toss in some carrots and an apple, and we’ve brown bagged a healthy lunch that helps keep weight gain at bay.

As for all those tempting items that are nutritionally questionable: either don’t buy them or make moderation your watchword.