How to Change Lunch Nutrition in School
Childhood obesity has been on the rise since the 1980s. Concerns about the long-term consequences of junk food in schools has ignited a debate over the policies regarding school lunch programs. Improving the health and wellness of children requires improving the nutrition of the meals they are served in school.
Eliminate junk food in schools. The actual availability of junk food is associated with children’s weight gain. According to health researcher Linda Gorman, “a 10 percentage point increase in the proportion of schools with junk food is correlated with about a 1 percent higher BMI for the average student.” If students eat lunch at school each day but do not have the option to eat pizza, french fries and potato chips, they will be less likely to eat those foods outside the school. Eliminating vending machines is another option to remove these foods from schools.
Change the school commodity lists. The U.S. Department of Agriculture decides which foods will be made available to be served at schools and nonprofit agencies across the country, as well as coordinating the distribution of these foods. The USDA’s goal is to provide nutritious meals for students. At the same time, however, the agency still boosts the agricultural industries that produce unhealthy foods. Only about one-third of the USDA’s school commodity list (in 2002) was comprised of low-fat, low-calorie, nutrient-rich foods. Only five items on the list were fruits or vegetables.
Offer healthier food options in place of junk-food options. Children should have access to lean meats, whole grains, fresh fruits and vegetables for lunch and snacks at school. These foods can help children stay healthy and maintain proper weights, as well as keep them sharp and attentive during their classes. People who adopt healthy eating habits at a young age are much more likely to carry those good habits over into adulthood, which can improve their lifelong health.
Provide education on healthy nutrition and eating habits. In addition to offering healthier food choices to children in schools, it should be a priority to educate them on how to make healthy choices both in and out of school. Children should understand the importance of eating nutritious foods and how it affects their bodies and minds. The education on good health should not only include the children, but should be expanded to include the food-service workers, educators and parents.