Originally Published: July 19, 2013 10:50 a.m.
Hello Simply Fit readers. Just a few days ago, over 23 children in a village in India died after eating a school lunch which consisted of rice, lentils, potatoes and soy. As of now, reports are suspecting that a pesticide was used instead of cooking oil to prepare some of the food. How this could happen is beyond me. I can not imagine the pain and anger the parents must be going through. My thoughts and prayers are with the families.
About one year ago I wrote a blog about how school lunches were becoming healthier due to changes brought down from the USDA. I was amazed at the comments that I received. I obviously had no idea how controversial the subject of school lunch is.
Well I'm here again to stir the pot again because now the USDA has made changes to the School Breakfast Program as well.
Before I lay out the changes, I first want to say that the National School Lunch Program and Breakfast Program are not perfect. How could it be? According to the USDA, over 31 million children received school lunches in 2011 and 11.6 million children received school breakfast in 2010. This is a lot of children to nourish and this is also a lot of food preferences and allergies to accommodate. It's is a daunting and challenging task that I am proud to be part of as a school nutritionist.
As a school nutritionist I have made it my duty to eat school breakfast and lunch as often as possible. Hey, if I'm going to put spaghetti tacos on the menu, I better be willing to eat them right? After one entire year, I am healthier than I have ever been mostly due the abundance of fruits, vegetables and whole grains that we serve. Really!
As a school nutritionist I also make it my duty to see what children who are not eating school lunch or breakfast, are bringing from home. Don't get me wrong, I don't do this because I feel ALL children must eat school breakfast and lunch ALL the time. My own kids brown bag a lunch on occasion and I applaud the parents that try to pack a nutritious meal to send to school with their child. I love seeing kids eating a healthy home packed meal. Keep up the good work. I do it because I want to be sincere when I tell parents that we can provide meals that are equal or higher in nutrition than what they send from home.
The sad truth is many meals brought from home consist of a bag of cereal, a fruit roll up and flaming hot Cheetos. When I ask who packed their lunch, the child usually says that they did it themselves. It breaks my heart.
Now for you parents that are appalled that schools serve food like spaghetti tacos or chicken nuggets. I say this: It is only good nutrition when the nutrients get into the children's bodies. Yes, baked chicken and a tossed green salad sound great and, yes, we do serve items like this but the fact is 99 percent of the kids won't eat it. They won't eat it because most parents don't feed their children like this. This is where the compromise comes.
We offer food items that children are being fed at home except we've taken their favorite foods and made them more nutritious. Keep this in mind the next time you look at a school menu and see cheeseburger, nacho supreme, chicken and mashed potato bowl because these entrees' are packed with nutrition that is actually getting into their bodies, not going into the garbage.
Something else to consider is the price. School breakfast and lunch are a bargain. Breakfast is a little over $1.00 and lunch is between $2.00 to $3.00 depending on which district your child attends. You child may even qualify for free or reduced pricing depending on household size and income. The application is easy, discreet and can save your family hundreds of dollars in the school year.
Below are links to the free and reduced lunch applications at the following school districts: Humboldt Unified, Prescott Unified, and Chino Valley Unified. Humboldt Unified is the only school at this time that has the 2013-14 school year application. Prescott and Chino will most likely update theirs soon.
All you have to do is print it out, fill it out and send it to school with your child or hand deliver it to the school. I recommend the hand delivery method because your application is less likely to get lost in the backpack wasteland. You can also ask for an application at your child's school. Don't wait. The sooner you turn in the application, the sooner your child may be able to receive free or reduced priced meals at school.
If you're concerned that your child will be identified at school by their peers as receiving free or reduced pricing, you shouldn't be. It is against the law for any child to be identified in this manner. No information that can identify your child's status should ever be shared or be visible to anyone other than the staff and there is no shame in receiving these helpful benefits. I've received them myself.
Beginning at the 2013-2014 school year, the following will be offered at breakfast:
Fruit and/or 100 percent fruit juice
Half of all grains must be whole grain or whole grain rich (in 2014-15 all grains will be whole grain or whole grain rich)
Two varieties of milk fat (fat-free flavored milk/fat free regular milk/2% regular milk)
Zero grams of trans fat
Less than 10 percent of calories can come from saturated fat
Calorie minimum and maximums will also be in place:
Grades K-5 - 350-500 calories
Grades 6-8 - 400-550 calories
Grades 9-12 - 450-600 calories
These changes mean that at breakfast, your child will have the opportunity to receive a variety of fruits, whole grain breakfast items, and a variety of milk options. Schools will also be able to serve an entrée with a meat/meat alternate item such as eggs and yogurt as long as a grain item is also offered with that entrée. Sodium levels will begin to decrease starting in the 2014-2015 school year
Here is something else to chew on. According to data from Nokidhungry.org, kids who eat a school breakfast attend an average of one and a half more days of school each year; they average 17.5 percent higher test scores in math; are 20 percent more likely to graduate, which means that these children are more likely to earn $10,000 more per year than their peer who did not graduate from high school and are less likely to experience hunger as an adult. Over 21 million children are eligible for free or reduced breakfast but only about half of these children take advantage of it.
This should ease your mind if the recent tragedy in India has you thinking about your child's school cafeteria food safety. According to the USDA:
Schools that serve meals under the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) are required to maintain proper sanitation and health standards in conformance with all applicable State and local laws and regulations.
Schools are required to obtain two school food safety inspections per school year, which are to be conducted by a state or local governmental agency responsible for food safety inspections
Schools are to post the latest inspection report in a visible location and to make it available to the public upon request.
Yavapai County requires all food service employees to either attend a basic food worker certification class or complete a workbook and pass a test and all food service managers are required to attend a Food Safety Manager Certification course. This means that in each school cafeteria, there will be a Certified Food Safety Manager and each food and nutrition worker will have a food handler's card. The fact is, your child has a higher risk of getting food poising from their sack lunch than from school lunch and breakfast.
Please keep this in mind when packing lunches from home. Make sure lunches are packed in an insulated container with ice packs.
So I've given you a lot to think about but if I still haven't convinced you, come to your child's school and have breakfast and lunch. Talk to the school nutritionist or food service director. Share your ideas and concerns. Volunteer to be a cafeteria aide. Get involved.