20 Sep 2012
My son’s school sent home some new “strict” nutritional guidelines from the government for healthy food that they’re going to follow this year for school lunches.
The list included some elements that excited me, like larger portions of fruits and veggies, especially dark greens and other colors. Very cool.
It was of course way off on the fats issue, but I don’t think America is ready to accept that whole milk is good for you.
Where I really felt the new guidelines missed the mark, and missed it BIGtime, is in what was missing: sugar.
There was zero effort to reduce sugar in kids’ school lunches, except for a veiled mention in the line that said that “flavored milks will be non-fat.” I read that as, “flavored milks already have sugar, which is bad for kids, so we can’t include fat too, since that’s bad for kids.”
In reality, a little fat would probably help the sugar not zoom through a child’s system so quickly and hype them up for fifth hour English class, but that’s just my humble guess.
School Lunch Needs Reform
With an alarming number of children fighting obesity and even diabetes, it’s no joke that school lunch is on the front lines of healthy food in America. No one will argue about the benefits of eating healthy; it’s just that there’s so much controversy about how to get there.
If I could be in charge of the world, here are some foods I’d get into (and out of) the lunchroom:
1. More Vegetables
Plain and simple, eating vegetables is a good idea…as long as one realizes that starchy potatoes and corn mustn’t count.
Varying colors is fantastic – the dark leafy greens, the red and orange peppers, the purple cabbages, the green broccoli, cucumbers or peas. When I make a meal that is as colorful as a rainbow, I tend to sigh in contentment as I look at my plate. The palette of colors actually makes the food taste better because it’s so beautiful.
The million dollar question becomes: “How do we get the children to actually eat the vegetables and not just toss them?” I offer one idea here that I really think is the key to vegetables.
2. Whole Foods
Quite simply, if lunches would have more one ingredient foods – rice (brown), carrots, spinach, chicken – children would be better nourished. When “chicken” has a dozen ingredients and a strawberry “Icee” counts as a fruit (even though it might not contain strawberries), red flags go up in my real food mind.
That cannot be healthy food.
The farther we get from the “farm to table” philosophy, the farther we get from health, and generally, the heavier our nation becomes.
Let’s keep fruit as things like “Strawberry.” “Plum.” “Apple.”
3. Healthy Fats
Just as we discussed healthy fats for breakfast a few months ago, a foundation of healthy fats at lunch is necessary. Saturated fats are vital for brain development, assimilating vitamins in all those veggies from point one, and making the food have staying power so kids aren’t hungry and munching junk food in the halls by sixth hour.
The fats in whole dairy, coconut oil, avocados and flax, just to name a few, are better choices than the inflammatory soybean and corn oils found in almost all processed foods.
4. Less Sugar
I try to be positive, really I do.
I hate saying, “Don’t eat this, don’t eat that.”
But when it comes to sugar, less is more.
There’s really nothing kind or gentle to say about sugar, and there’s no amount that should be acceptable if one is to truly realize the benefits of eating healthy.
I like my sweet treats as much as anyone else, but I do realize that they need to be “fun foods.” We teach our kids that they must eat their real food first, and then they can (sometimes) have a sweet treat. Usually it’s small, and homemade when I can swing it.
Sugar should not be in the salad dressings as part of a “healthy food” first course.
Sugar absolutely doesn’t belong in side dishes like baked beans, coleslaw, and celery with peanut butter – all supposedly healthy foods, but often containing sugar.
There’s no reason for sugar to be in the beverages that kids fill themselves up on, whether it’s the flavored milk or the “juice” that is mostly high fructose corn syrup.
And sugar definitely has no place in a main course, but I guarantee it graces many a lunch tray in our schools: in barbecue sauce, taco seasoning, spaghetti and pizza sauce, teriyaki glaze and other Asian inspired recipes, and likely even some of the bread products.
I want to see our nation’s food regulating bodies wage war on sugar, particularly in our schools.
I guess I just have to say it.
If you care about healthy food, don’t eat sugar.
5. Fewer Grains
Grains are a sticky subject.
Many folks would say that whole grains need to be a focus in school lunches, that we need to get rid of the white flour.
I agree in part, since white flour is metabolized similarly in the body like white sugar. Our kids don’t need the empty calories and “sugar high” of white bread.
On the other hand, my family and others have found that cutting grains at least down if not out has helped their weight loss goals and general digestion tremendously.
On a school lunch tray, it’s common to see crackers as a side with pizza, since the approved lunch must have two grains. Who eats pizza and thinks, “Now I need some crackers!”
I’d love to see the grains cut down in the requirements, since I do think kids fill up on empty calories and eschew the actual healthy food (such as fruits and veggies) in favor of the easy to eat bread products.
Ultimately, kids are only going to eat what they want to, no matter what is put in front of them. However, that doesn’t mean we should cater to their chicken-nugget-and-pasta loving ways. If they only have healthy food on their trays, we have to hope they’ll come around eventually.
What healthy food would you like to see more often in school lunches? How can we instill in children the awesome benefits of eating healthy?
KatieCheck out my latest posts here