What Children Are Eating At School
have proven that children who eat a hearty breakfast and lunch are more
focused and peaceful in their studies and social settings.
National School Lunch Program, established in 1946, provides federal
support to schools that serve USDA approved meals to their students.
This support is provided both financially and in the form of surplus
foods. Since the National School Lunch Act was enacted in 1946 over
180 billion meals have been served to children across the country. In
the 2000-2001 school year alone approximately 8,000 schools -- 27.4
million children -- participated.
with school lunches, cafeterias and vending machines often provide additional
foods at extra cost: entrees, a la carte items and snacks. These foods
are not subsidized or regulated by the government and so there are generally
no restrictions passed on these foods. Students are then free to eat
as they like, and many do indeed choose a meal of chips and soda which
are both readily available in vending machines.
and fast foods on campus compete with healthier selections. Unfortunately,
many school food service providers, in an effort to keep the school
lunch program financially afloat, have 'given in' to students demands
and regularly provide less healthy foods, like pizza, corn dogs, chicken
nuggets, etc. Not only do these meals lack fresh vegetables, fruits
and whole grains, they are also generally comprised of poor quality
guidelines recommend meals based on whole grains and fresh produce.
Thus CHOICE advocates schools provide and promote these healthier plant-based
selections. To this end, CHOICE supports efforts to increase plant-based
and vegetarian options in schools, farm-to-cafeteria produce programs,
dietary restrictions on ala carte food items and the banning of junk
foods and sodas in schools.
of the School Lunch Program
the roots of the School Lunch Program are based in charitable community
service. From the mid 1800's to the early 1900's, concerns that a large
percentage of our nation's children suffered from malnutrition rallied
efforts, primarily from women's organizations, to provide nutritious
warm meals for neighboring school children.
it was not until 1946, when young men responding to the draft call of
WWII were repeatedly rejected from service due to conditions arising
from serious malnutrition, that Congress approved the long awaited National
School Lunch Act.
Importance of School Lunch
many children, their school lunch will be the most important meal of
their day. Children depend upon their warm school lunch for 1/3 to 1/2
of their nutritional intake. Healthy diets help children grow, develop,
and do well in school. Thus, the intent of the National School Lunch
Program is that all children receive a daily, warm, healthy meal that
meets approved nutritional requirements.
Guidelines for Americans"
requirements are updated every 5 years and published under the heading
of the "Dietary Guidelines for Americans." Current regulations
require that 1/3 of the Recommended Daily Allowance of protein, Vitamin
A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium and calories be provided in school lunches.
In addition, no more than 30% of the meal's calories should be derived
from fat; less than 10% from saturated fats. It is important to note
that these are minimal standards and that many health professionals
believe these standards should be strengthened.
order to receive compensation from the federal government for foods
served, schools should be in compliance with the basic guidelines outlined
above. Schools receive approximately $.25 for each meal purchased by
a student, $1.75 for reduced payment lunches, and $2.15 for meals that
are fully subsidized by the federal government for children of low income.
use either a Nutrient Standard or Food Group system to document the
nutritional value of their meals for federal authorities. The newer
Nutrient Standard system is more accurate and flexible in terms of actual
nutrient quality and analysis of food served. The Food group system
was founded around the concept of the now outdated four food group system
(meat, dairy, grains and produce). Currently, whichever system a school
chooses, they must meet the standards outlined in the "Dietary
Guidelines for Americans." While the Nutrient Standard system is
considered more foolproof and flexible, most schools still use the Food
Meals Are Prepared
the meals are prepared varies from school to school. Some schools do
all of their own cooking in a well-equipped kitchen. Others out source
their foods to large institutional kitchens that are either privately
owned enterprises or under the care of educational authorities.
Is Your Child Eating?
best understand what your child is eating in school, you should visit
the cafeteria and share lunch with your children, talk to them about
the school lunch, and regularly review menus.