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Stricter School Lunches Help Fight Child Obesity

School lunch

In a study conducted by the University of Illinois at Chicago, researchers found that students who received free or low-cost lunches that exceeded the USDA nutritional standards were less likely to be overweight or obese. Students who received lunches that only marginally met the standards were more likely to pack on the pounds. This study has led the way in changing the way lunches are prepared in schools across the nation. Here are what some programs are doing to help fight child obesity:

1. Connecticut

300,000 children in Connecticut eat breakfast, lunch or both while in school. According to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, healthy school lunches play a critical role in fighting childhood obesity. As such, schools that once used to offer prepared meals made with frozen goods are now offering breakfasts and lunches that feature vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It’s just a small step, but one that state officials hope will curb the rise in overweight children across the state.

2. New Jersey

When children returned to high school this past fall, they were welcomed with low-fat, high-fiber menu items when they sat down for lunch at Parsipanny High. Were they happy? Not by a long shot. Students protested the new menu which contained chef salad, whole wheat spaghetti and baked sweet potato fries. Students complain that the calorie-controlled lunches are leaving them hungry and wanting more. Thankfully, the protests are landing on deaf ears as school administrators simply wait for the students to get used to the changes.

3. Nebraska

Chase County Schools have followed the lead of other schools in the nation and changed up their lunch program. Gone are the tater tots and pizza, in are fruits, vegetables, milk, protein and grains. Another change? Limiting portion sizes according to age-appropriate calorie limits. All students, in accordance with new federal guidelines, are required to eat three-fourths to one cup of vegetables and one-half to one piece of fruit per day. Hungry students need not worry, extra servings can be purchased for a small price.

Classic school lunch. Yum.

4. New York

Schools in the Big Apple didn’t wait to jump on the anti-obesity bandwagon, they changed school lunches years ago. Introducing salad bars in schools as early as 2005, the city replaced traditional French fries with baked potato strips, white pasta with whole-grain varieties, and introduced non-fat chocolate milk to students. The result? A drop in caloric intake among students that wasn’t planned. While NYC came under fire for the lower calorie lunches, federal regulators are now applauding the school system for the changes made.

5. Massachusetts

At Dr. Elmer S. Bagnell Elementary School in Groveland, students can be seen outside, rushing through a lovely garden, tilling the soil, harvesting crops and planting new ones. The fruits of their labor are used in the cafeteria, as lesson props and donated to the local food bank. Additionally, the school holds Tasting Tuesday, an event that introduces students to new recipes created with the fruits and vegetables grown in their very own garden. Not only are the children receiving healthier fare in the cafeteria, but they are learning that food comes from the ground, not the grocery store.

If we hope to raise a nation of healthy adults, programs must be put in place to fight childhood obesity. Schools are realizing this and falling in line with new federal guidelines. While students may have a tough time making the adjustment, they’ll be thankful in the long run.

Tracy Rentz is frequent health blog writer. Interested in helping with public health issues such as child obesity? You may find you’re interested in USC’s masters in public health degree.

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