It has been the mission of First Lady Michelle Obama to change the school lunch program that exists within schools and make schools accountable for the nutritional value school food contains. In December 2010 a bill was put into effect by President Obama requiring schools to beef up nutritional standards of school lunches and provide schools with funding for child nutrition and a free lunch program for some students for the next 5 years.
While the idea of providing solid nutrition and food to school aged children is a good one, it has been met with much controversy and resistance from students. Many students are rejecting the new lunches and complaining of hunger. So, what can we do now?
What Is The Hunger-Free Kids Act?
The hunger-free kids act is a federal bill that made law in December of 2010. The focus of the law is to improve the standards for child nutrition. This includes the distribution of $4.5 billion for nutrition-related programs in schools. This funding is designated for the next 5 years and aims to fight childhood obesity.
The bill in total will increase the amount of children that meet the criteria for school lunch programs, will now use census data to account for students in high-poverty areas and will allocate the USDA funds to provide food during after school programs in high-risk areas.
What Do The New Nutritional Standards Do?
Aside from funding programs geared to childhood nutrition and hunger-free kids, the law requires schools to adhere to standards regarding school lunches as a whole. The new standards give the USDA the power to regulate the foods sold as part of school lunches as well as in vending machines. Additionally, the new standards will provide sources of more nutritional food for the USDA and provide funds for schools and communities to attain food from local gardens and farms. In addition, more money will be designated to support changing standards for subsidized lunches. The bill also intends to increase school’s access to drinking water and set marginal criteria for wellness programs in schools.
How Does Program Monitoring Work?
To ensure that schools are adhering to the new standards, all schools will be audited every 3 years to check on policies and procedures and to see if nutritional standards are being met. Additionally, parents and students will be provided with nutritional values of each school lunch and food items. Under the new bill comes a training procedure for all school lunchroom personnel and an improvement to recall procedures for food.
Why Is The New Act Controversial?
While the Hunger-Free Kids Act has many good points, it has been met with some controversy. While putting a cap on calorie intake and portion control is a good way to fight obesity, it presumes that all students require the same number of calories and meal size to halt hunger and does not take into account each individual child’s age or body size.
The new standards also presume that all forms of protein are interchangeable and the same, and makes the assumption that all children will be properly fed when at home.
What To Do Now That Kids Are Pushing Back?
One of the top complaints about the new school lunch programs comes from teens, especially those teens that are active in school sports and extracurricular activities. The new school lunch caps the calorie count for high school students at 850. Students have been complaining that this is just not enough food and that they are hungry.
Students are now receiving more whole grains, more vegetables and fruit, low-fat dairy choices, less fat and sodium and calorie limits as determined by school age.
Aside from counting calories, it may be important to teach children how to manage their hunger. Children go through many growth spurts and increases in appetite go hand in hand with that growth.
Stressing the importance of eating breakfast may help to curb hunger.
According to a recent survey, less than 40 percent of teens eat breakfast every day. This is a real problem. Additionally, not eating breakfast has been repeatedly linked to weight gain in teens. Those who skip breakfast tend to eat more during the rest of the day and hunger tends to lend itself to making poor nutritional choices.
Marketing The New Lunches
While eating healthy is good for our bodies, many people, including children, associate the word “healthy” with tasteless food choices. While nutritional value and health benefits may be good motivators for adults, children tend to be motivated to eat by the way the item tastes. If the children deem healthy food as tasting bad, then they will be resistant to eating it. Perhaps a change in the way the new program is marketed is in order. Putting the focus on taste and fulfillment, rather than the term “healthy”, may be a good place to start.
How Kids Eat
Unfortunately, many children are not fans of veggies and fruits, and will almost always choose something else over the healthy produce options. Perhaps it will just take a little bit longer for those kids to accept the idea of a new, healthy lunch.
Along this same point is the time kids are given to finish lunches. A large percentage of school children complain that they just do not have enough time to eat. In this case, many children will grab the most desirable item on their lunch tray, eat it and there go the veggies into the garbage. Perhaps those students need to be taught how to enjoy food and be given enough time to eat properly.
This new school lunch initiative has many valid points, such as providing food to children in need and upping the nutritional value and quality of school lunches. However, it has been met with some resistance, especially by the students. There is more to becoming a healthy eater than just being given a plate of healthy food. These children need to be educated in the health benefits of making healthy choices, as well as be given an adequate amount of time to finish lunches and to warm up to the idea. It will likely be a group effort of school, community and family that is needed to make this program work. Patience is required, as much time will likely be needed to transform our students into healthy eaters.