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School Lunches

A visit to a school lunchroom at noon would quickly dispel any preconceived view of how lunch goes down in children. Most youngsters will dive for the cookies first eat a bite or two out of the sandwich and the apple, throw away the rest, and turn to the serious business of snack foods. There are approximately 25 million children in 93,000 schools who receive breakfast and lunch through the school cafeteria. Although research has shown that eating healthy at an early age helps youngsters develop good eating habits, these lunches and breakfasts are loaded with fat, sodium, sugar and are low in fiber.

A nutritious diet will positively affect the performance of a student work (Sherman 18). Nutrition is the process by which a living being takes food and supplies it as nourishment to live and grow properly. The government needs to realize that good nutrition and nutrition education are two essential ingredients in a school health program and in education. Beatrice Trum Hunter in her article Upgrading School Lunches says that the Federal government set up the National School Lunch Program in 1946 and later the school breakfast program.

The reasons for this is, there was a growing surplus of certain subsidized agricultural products and many children in the country were going through the entire day without sufficient nutrition (Hunter 146-147). According to Barbara Meeks dietitian at Warren Local Schools, during War World II soldiers were so malnourished the National Government decided that children were not being properly educated and nourished. The government started the commodities service so that young soldiers would be in better health to fight in wars (Meeks).

The programs were administered by the U. S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). While the National Institute of Health, tells people to avoid fats and cholesterol, the U. S. Department of Agriculture feeds kids eggs, cheese and fatty sausages for breakfast. Through this program, the government bought a surplus of meat, cheese, milk, and butter from farmers (McCarty 22). They provided these products free to school districts. However, even in its founding, these programs offered children foods that were high in fat and cholesterol (McCarty 22).

These commodities are not necessarily based on childrens nutritional needs. The fact is, school lunches are more a matter of politics than of commonsense (Krizmanic 98). The school lunch and breakfast program supplies sufficient nutrients to children who might otherwise not getting enough food at home. The program menu reads like a fast-food restaurant containing such things as cheeseburgers, pizza, hot dogs, and Whole milk, which are all high in cholesterol and fat (Pratt 3). A non-nutritious diet has fostered a multitude of health problems in school age children.

The obesity rate among school age children has doubled in the last 10 years (Sherman 18). In a recent USDA report it reveals that school meals have 85 percent more sodium, 50 percent more saturated fat and 25 percent more fat in all, based on the departments recommendation for a healthy diet (Why 28). Of 545 schools surveyed only one meets the governments guideline for keeping saturated fat under 10 percent (Bricklin 48). A typical school lunch contains about 35-40 percent of calories from fat, relying to much on meat and animal based foods (Cornell).

The school menu is a management tool which has a major role in controlling the compliance the compliance of federal regulations, nutrient content, meal acceptability, food and labor cost, food purchasing, food production, equipment use and needs, and the employee training needs (Menu 12). Planning a successful menu requires several areas of knowledge such as the goals, requirements and recommendations of the breakfast and lunch programs, food costs, what foods are available, students food preferences, food preparation and a meal that will be well accepted by the school-age customer being served (Menu 5).

It is required that students be offered all five food items of the meal. When approved by the local school food authority students are allowed to choose three to four food items within the lunch pattern. Because school food service plays such an important role in the health and nutrition education of children, cafeterias are encouraged to reduce fat, sugar, and salt in school meals to the extent that is acceptable (Menu 4). However, cholesterol and fat are essential for a healthy body metabolism, particularly during periods of active growth and development, when energy needs are high (Kowalski 29).

Cholesterol, a waxy chemical that is manufactured in the liver, is essential for the bodys proper functioning (Kowalski 29). It helps build new cells and repair old ones. It acts as a building block for the brain, nerves, internal organs, and several hormones found naturally in the human body (Kowalski 30). Fat, is used by the body as a concentrated source of energy. This permits relatively small amounts of food to be eaten while obtaining the calories necessary to maintain daily activities. In reasonable amounts, fat helps a child grow to his or her full potential (Kowalski 31).

Food containing large amounts of saturated fat, discourage the body from clearing away excess cholesterol. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it can block the supply of blood to the heart (Kowalski 32). Based on rules from the USDA, meals each day need to provide at least 2 ounces of protein, three-fourths cup of fruit and vegetables, 8 ounces of milk, as well as 8 servings of bread a week. Each meal totals about 750 calories with 28 percent to 38 percent of calories from fat. For many children, lunch or breakfast at school is their first exposure to making their own food choices.

Guidelines from the National School Lunch Act (1994) and the Child Nutrition Act (1994) will go into effect during the 1996-1997 School year (Hunter 8-9). Exceptions to these requirements would be special medical and dietary needs such as substituting juice for milk with a child that is lactose intolerant. Even more exceptions would include ethnic, religious, economic or physical needs (Hunter). School food should be modified so it contains less fat and more grains, fruits, and vegetables. Heidi Sherman in her article Healthy School Lunches…

Finally, states the foods n total, should contain no more than 30 percent calories from fat, or 10 percent calories from saturated fat (18). Also, the guidelines recommend reductions in cholesterol, sodium, and sugar and to add one-third of the Recommended Dietary Allowances (RDA) per meal. This would provide protein, Vitamin A and C, calcium and iron. It is not expected that each meal each day will provide one-third of the RDA of all nutrients, but that when averaged over a period of time, in which a wide variety of foods are served, the guidelines well be met (Menu 13).

Many school age children pass the regular school lunch provided for them and eat even less nutritional foods from vending machines. Under current law, food containing less than 5 percent of the Recommended Daily Allowance of the eight basic nutrients, such as gum, hard candy, and soda pop, cannot be sold in school cafeterias during lunch hours (The 56). However, they can be sold in school during the rest of the day. Some schools as an alternative to vending machines offer ala carte consisting of potato chips, low fat and regular ice cream, snack cakes, granola bars, cookies, retzels, hi-c drinks, and flavored waters (The 57).

These are only offered after children have been given an adequate time to eat the regular school lunch provided for them (Williams). Schools make money on the sale of candy and other foods sold in the machines and during ala carte. This money then supports school programs (McCarty 4). There are better ways for schools to fund extra programs. Unhealthy food choices could be replaced by healthy choices. This could include items such as yogurt, fruit, apple sauce, and other healthy foods (Hunter 8).

This is more important to the childrens health then for the profit of junk food companies. The Fairfax County, Virginia School district, takes in more than $3,000 a week from vending machines stocked with healthy choices and fruit juices (Why 28). National School Lunch Program requires school food authorities to promote activities to involve students and parents in the school lunch program. Such activities may include menu planning, enhancement of the eating environment, program promotion, and related student community support activities (Menu 8).

There is a whole body of research that has determined that giving a child a good breakfast provides one-third of the energy requirements for the day and has beneficial effects on intellectual performance, social interactions, and energy levels at schools. Breakfast is an excellent opportunity for children to eat a significant portion of their daily nutritional requirements, and youngsters who eat breakfast tend to have a better nutritional intake over the course of the day (Feeding 156-157). Children whose lives are impeded by hunger and poor nutrition are not ready to learn.

Schools need to provide quality nutritional content in school menus through the food service program (Sherman 18). They also need properly staffed personnel that are trained in the current body of nutritional knowledge (Florida). All foods that are available to students should be consistent with recommended dietary allowances and dietary guidelines. When consumed, they contribute to the development of lifelong, healthy eating habits (Menu). School nutrition is also an essential portion of health education and should be connected into other health related curriculum in schools.

Dynamic classroom presentations and curriculum teach children that the same foods that are best for their bodies, are also best for the planet (Bricklin 47). Nutritional education includes a minimum knowledge on dietary guidelines, the food pyramid, and an understanding of product labeling. Although many children will continue choosing old favorites, increased choices will afford them a better chance to achieve a healthier diet. The U. S. Department of Agriculture has issued a new food pyramid to guide school classrooms and cafeterias to nutritional daily food choices.

Starting with plenty of breads, cereals, rice, and pasta, vegetables, fruits, two to three servings from the dairy group and meat group provides some, but not all of the nutrients you need (Menu 9). No one food group is more important than another. Good health requires them all. Nutritional education also develops critical thinking skills. This skill provides support for all nutritional information and assists individuals in making appropriate food choices. Good nutrition is a critical component of overall wellness(Center). It improves childrens nutritional status and helps to increase their overall physical, mental, and developmental health.

It will improve school performance and overall cognitive development. Eating healthy early on, helps children develop good habits that will stick with them and undoubtedly lower their risk of heart disease in the long run(Kowalski 29). In the short run, a nutritious diet will positively affect performance in school work. To meet the requirements of the National School Lunch Program, a school lunch must contain a specified quantity of each of the food components such as meat or meat alternate, vegetable or fruit, bread or grain, and milk (Menu 12).

The current pattern of food based menus for school lunches has changed from the past. The meat requirement was three ounces, but now is two. Fruit and vegetable requirements have raised from cups to one cup, the bread and grain requirements changed from eight servings per week to 12 to 15 servings per week and a minimum of one serving per day (Menu 14). Students claim that school lunches are lukewarm, tasteless, and soggy (Sherman 18). The government needs to recognize the importance of providing high quality foods that promotes health in both the short and long term.

Today the National School Lunch Program is an atherogenic atrocity, contributing to future heart disease (Menu 6). The educational system needs to modify fat, sodium, cholesterol, and sugar levels in the commodities donated to the schools for lunches and to teach students good nutrition in the classroom. The menu is the focal point of the school lunch and breakfast programs. It is the basis to have ultimate satisfaction of students appetites. School lunches and breakfasts have been in schools since 1946 when the National School Lunch Act was established.

The program was started to ensure the safeguard of the health and well being of children. It was designed for the means of three things: to provide nutritious and reasonably priced lunches to school children, contributes to a better understanding of good nutrition, and teaches good food habits. The school food service has become a basic part of the nations schools. The national government needs to realize the importance of school meals and what they contribute to children.

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