School lunches have an infamous reputation. The stereotype includes mystery meat, rock-hard burger buns, and sloppy vegetables, and there is plenty of debate swarming the lunch platter. Is the food sufficiently nutritious? Are children receiving adequate nutrition? Everyone has a point of view. However, have you ever wondered who decides what children eat at school? The answer is, The National School Lunch Program.
The majority of schools in America participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), which delivers low-cost or free lunch to more than 30 million children each day. President Harry S. Truman signed the program into law in 1946 with the intention of consuming farm surpluses while also giving meals to school-aged children. The NSLP provides financial assistance and food to any school district or independent nonprofit school that participates (USDA). In turn, school meals must adhere to federal dietary standards. The following nutritional requirements apply: No more than 30% of the calories in a meal may come from fat. Saturated fat should comprise less than 10% of total calories in a meal. Meals must contain one-third of the RDA for protein, Vitamin A, Vitamin C, iron, calcium, and calories. It's worth noting that many nutrition experts say that federal nutrition requirements are out of date and that the NSLP food is about as healthy as fast food. The NSLP meals, for example, are high in fat, preservatives, and high fructose corn syrup, according to President Obama's White House chef. Additionally, critics of the NSLP think agricultural lobbyists have a say in the food and commodities supplied to schools through the program [source: Parker-Pope]. Parents and nutritionists alike are advocating for a rethink of the program [source: Waters, Heron].
Take a hint from restaurants on how to improve the appeal of school lunches by emphasizing food presentation. Provide an incentive for youngsters to choose healthier alternatives at the cafeteria line. Serve colorful veggie finger snacks to pique the interest of hungry children. Assign entertaining names to the various entrees that appeal to children. This could result in not just improved remarks, but also, by scientific criteria, an increase in academic performance. Numerous studies demonstrate that greater school nutrition results in enhanced focus and attention, improved test scores, and improved classroom behavior. Encourage healthy behaviors and consistent messaging: School food that is nutritious helps pupils build lifetime healthy eating habits. As CDC says, “Healthy students are better learners. Research shows that eating habits and healthy behaviors are connected to academic achievement. Student participation in the School Breakfast Program is associated with better grades and standardized test scores, reduced absences, and improved memory.” (CDC, 2021)
To begin improving the quality and comments about school food, let us allow pupils adequate time to eat school meals. When school meals are given in the cafeteria or classroom, it is critical that kids have sufficient time to eat, socialize, and enjoy their meal. Schools should ensure that children have at least 10 minutes for breakfast and at least 20 minutes for lunch after they are seated. Sufficient sitting time is associated with increased consumption of fruit, vegetables, lunch entrées, and milk, as well as decreased waste. Second, encourage healthy eating habits.
Schools can employ the Whole School, Whole Community, Whole Child (WSCC) approach to promote federal school food programs and other healthful snacks. Parents can support school-based efforts to promote healthy eating by requesting that healthy meals and beverages be accessible at school activities, celebrations, and fundraisers. Parents for Healthy
Schools, a program of the CDC, provides additional information on how to become involved and advocate for your child's health and well-being.
CDC. (2021, September 21). Eating Healthier at School. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/eating_healthier.htm
https://www.howstuffworks.com/about-author.htm. (2009, July 15). Who decides what goes into school lunches? HowStuffWorks.