Think back: what was your favorite school lunch to see sitting on the styrofoam tray sliding down the counter in front of you? Pizza? Open-faced turkey sandwiches with mashed potatoes and gravy? Given the choice, what kind of milk did you grab? Chocolate or skim?
Some of those choices may soon disappear from school lunchrooms in an effort to curb the alarming spike in childhood obesity rates.
New guidelines proposed by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) would be the first changes since some of us were actually in high school (15 years). Overall, the guidelines seek to cut salt and fat and add more whole grains, fruits and vegetables to the lunch selections available. “Starchy” vegetables would be limited to one cup per week — so french fries would be a treat, not an everyday option.
Dietician, Nutritionist, Exercise Physiologist and Clinical Nutrition Coordinator Samantha Heller says kids get about half of their daily calories from school meals, so it follows that
“Having healthier fare in the schools is a critical step in giving children the education and experience of healthy foods and reducing the risk of many chronic diseases and obesity.”
Beyond the health issues associated with obesity (in childhood and otherwise), the cost of healthcare for obese people is significantly higher than the cost of healthcare for people in the normal to slightly overweight range. A 2009 study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and a non-profit research group estimates the annual cost of obesity “is as high as $147 billion.”
Right now, government nutrition standards only apply to meals provided free or at low cost to low-income children. Under the new proposed guidelines, all food served in schools (whether the cost is government-subsidized or not) would be required to meet these standards.
Any possible changes are still a couple of years away, but under the proposed guidelines:
- School meals would have calorie limits.
- Salt would be cut by half over 10 years.
- Most trans fats would be banned.
- More fruits and vegetables would be included in each meal.
- Only low-fat or nonfat milk would be served.
- Meals would see increases in the amount of whole grains and eventually will include only whole grains.
- Breakfast would include both grain and protein, not one or the other.
If you’re concerned about your child’s weight, Frederick Memorial Healthcare System has resources available to help. The Healthy Weigh is a Nutritional & Weight Management Program designed by the FMH Wellness staff and The Pediatric Center of Frederick, LLC to promote proper nutrition and healthy lifestyles in children. The program offers nutritional, behavioral and activity/ fitness components to meet the varied needs of all patients. The program focuses on kids, but the whole family is involved in making healthier choices.