For the back-to-school season in Sacramento, do you want your child to eat farm-to-school tacos or specialty salads in your local school cafeteria this new, 2011 season? Sacramento needs a plate waste survey.
Maybe you’re tired of hearing how often fruits and vegetables end up in the school trash cans. See the July 20, 2011 article by Rebecca Jones, Fruit Veggies Often End Up in School Trash. According to that article, between a third and a half of all the fruits and vegetables served to youngsters at some Loveland school cafeterias last year wound up in the trash, a study has found. How many vegetables and fruits are thrown out from Sacramento school cafeterias? Researchers used photos of students’ cafeteria trays to determine how much food was wasted.
The results of the Loveland survey, according to that article, are comparable to nationwide findings. The findings form the basis for a pilot project that will be launched this fall at Thompson middle schools. School officials will be trying some new strategies – including rearranging lunch schedules and serving lines – to get students to select more fresh produce at lunch. Sacramento schools for this back-to-school season can learn a lot from different approaches to nutrition education with students.
When you look at the Loveland schools, in 2010 they purchased 215,000 pounds of fresh produce for their own district elementary schools. So why are so many fresh fruits and vegetables being thrown away? And why do elementary school students prefer to eat the canned vegetables and fruits over the fresh ones? The answer has to be that parents are serving canned fruits and vegetables at home to kids who form the habit of familiar foods. They are on automatic pilot when it comes to the school lunch and eat what is most familiar by habit. How many parents are taking the time to serve fresh fruit and vegetables? A lot of people can’t even afford fresh produce. Some get canned vegetables and fruits from food banks rather than perishable foods. So kids get into the habit of eating what they eat at home from early childhood.
Packed lunch versus school lunch: kids are eating what they are used to being served at home for years
Would you rather pack a lunch or make sure your child was eating salads made with fresh whole grains? And if your child can’t have grains due to various sensitivities or autoimmune issues, what would you put into a salad? Would the salad spoil with bacteria before your child ate it if you put it in a container and into a lunchbox? Also check out the July 23, 2011 article, Early Child Obesity Prevention Report.
Would you like to join the Coalition for Sustainable School Meal Programs (CSSMP) in Sacramento? Are you satisfied with the proposed menu planning regulations? Are there issues that concern you? The unfunded costs? Check out the July 29, 2011 article, Debunking the Myths of CSPI’s Revenue Estimates. Changes in crediting of fruits and vegetables that could make pizza unacceptable on your menu? Limits on popular vegetables like peas, corn and potatoes? Check out the July 1, 2011 article, Wake Up, Parents! Or Let Kids Run the Cafeteria.
Portions too large for a child to eat resulting in increased waste and not improving children’s diets? See the latest news on back-to-school lunches and other meals your children eat at school. You can read about these revenue estimates from research done by the Center for Science in the Public Interest (CSPI) and its subsidiary the National Alliance for Nutrition and Activity (aptly abbreviated to NANA). Also see, New school meal regulations spark cost worries.
There’s power in numbers
A lot of working parents don’t have the time to steam vegetables or chop up vegetables to make raw salads. Many can’t afford the produce. But there’s power in numbers. It’s important that you add your name and your voice to the effort of the Coalition for Sustainable School Meal Programs (CSSMP). Sign up your organization and yourself. Parents and schools can work together to help kids eat healthier foods and use healthier ingredients in cooking instead of traditional, familiar ingredients that are not so healthy in the long term.
You might take a look at the July 28, 2011 article, USDA Announces Winner in First Lady’s Recipes for Healthy Kids Contest (SNA News). This back-to-school year, emphasis is on recipes for healthy children. But how large a gap is there between healthy recipes and the tight school budgets in Sacramento to serve the healthiest food to kids in public schools by the time school opens in a few weeks? Competing teams submitted recipes in three categories: Dry Beans, Dark Green-Orange Vegetables, and Whole Grains. How healthy kids eat really depends upon what the Sacramento school districts can spend. To see the recipes, check out the website, Recipes for Kids Challenge.
Also see the June 10, 2010 Sacramento News & Review article by Nancy Brands Ward, “A model lunch: Davis’ Farm to School program uses partnerships to get kids eating healthy.” Last year Davis Davis Joint Unified School District students ate from salad bars stocked with locally grown produce and specialty salads made with ingredients like barley, asparagus and fresh herbs. In Davis, the schools emphasize locally-grown farm fresh foods.
Instead of prepared, frozen meals that must fit a very tight school food budget, kids in Davis chose made-from-scratch dishes prepared in a central kitchen every morning. A typical meal in Davis public schools was lemon-flavored chicken heaped on top of organic rice. But was the rice nutritious brown or black rice? Or was the rice cheap white rice, one more starchy filler that will turn to sugar soon after it’s eaten?
The kids also ate pizza in Davis, even if it was called farm-to-school pizza. Another choice was fish tacos. But was the fish wild-caught or farmed fish? Did the fish tacos come from canned salmon, wild-caught from the overrun of the usual catch? Or was it the usual farmed fish you also an buy in fast-food eateries? Don’t know? Find out where the fish came from–the Bay area with all the pollution, or was the fish frozen and caught in relatively cleaner Alaskan or Arctic waters?
If you look at the Davis back to school lunch programs, you can trace the farm-to-school local food regimen to 1999 when two mothers—Ann Evans (co-founder of the local farmers’ market and Davis Food Co-op, and now a consultant to the Farm to School Connection) and Page O’Connor—discovered high-fat, high-salt Lunchables being served to students on a field trip. At least you know that in Davis the lunches have less fat now and less salt. But what’s happening in Sacramento schools? See the website, California School Nutrition Association. Also see the site, A How to Guide for Setting up a Salad Bar Program.
Are You Attending the California School Nutrition Associations Conference in November 2011?
Don’t forget the California School Nutrition Association’s 59th Annual Conferences will be held in Sacramento from November 10 to 13, 2011. See the site, CSNA 59th Annual Conference. You don’t have to be a member of CSNA to sign up and register for the conference. One way to help children choose healthier foods during school lunch periods is to involve children in bringing in the recipes and helping to cook the food.
You’re Never Too Young to Have a Voice in Nutrition for Health at School and at Home
You’re never too young to have a voice in what you eat at school as you bring in the recipes, fit them to the budget, and cook the food. Check out the May 18, 2011 Sacramento Bee article by Matt Kawahara, “Not satisfied, Luther Burbank student cooks get their shot.”
Sacramento’s Luther Burbank High School students enrolled in the Food Justice class want a voice in and more power over what they eat in local school lunches, breakfasts, and snacks. They want a voice of confidence, resilience, and expertise in making sure meals are both tasty and healthy.
See the article, [PDF] Teens Take on Cafeteria Food. Also see, Food Justice in Our Schools – Sacramento, CA – 02/04/11. During the spring of 2011 the class was asked by the district to come up with recipes it would like to see included on the school menu. But the students had to adjust the healthier foods menu to the tight school budget. Also see, Food Justice | Blog.
So the Students of the Food Justice class at Sacramento’s Luther Burbank High School in May, 2011 teamed up with the Sacramento Unified School District’s Health Foods Task Force and Nutritional Services Department to have a strong voice in how healthy the foods are that they are served in school.
The after-school nutrition class has been working with the Sacramento City Unified School District’s Healthy Foods Task Force and Nutritional Services Department for weeks in an attempt to give students more of a voice in the meals they’re served at school, said class adviser Aly Kronick, according to the May 18, 2011 Sacramento Bee article, “Not satisfied, Luther Burbank student cooks get their shot.”
Also see my other joltleft.com article on school lunches, “Healthy Foods Task Force formed in Sacramento to improve meals served at schools – Sacramento Nutrition | joltleft.com .” In May, 2011, with the help of two school district chefs, 10 members of the Food Justice class took to the Burbank High kitchen to make tortas, chicken dumpling soup, fruit salad, and bread pudding – dishes that will soon appear for a trial run in the Burbank High cafeteria.
For those not familiar with tortas, historically the difference between torta and bread was its round and flat shape, as well as the absence of yeast in its preparation. Students are eating food served in school and should have a voice in what they eat to be sure they’re eating healthy. On the other hand, the budget is limiting food choices in Sacramento schools.
On one side of the fence students want to put their ideas into the school kitchen. The Food Justice class is a kind of health squad. Funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture paid for nutrition education when the class began on January 17, 2011.
The district began to look at what foods student ate in school cafeteria. Last spring, SCUSD Superintendent Jonathan Raymond formed the task force to bring healthier food, including fresh, local produce, to the about 30,000 students that the district serves daily, according to the Sacramento Bee article, “Not satisfied, Luther Burbank student cooks get their shot.”
What students like to eat is familiar food that is healthy and also tastes good. Students want a say in what they eat. They have ideas for new menu items. But the budget is there as a boundary. Basically, the Health Squad came up with three lunch items and two breakfasts, and pitched them to district officials. On May 16, 2011, students did get the chance to prepare their recipes. The goal focused on whether the taste met expectations, was within the budget, and emphasized healthier food.
For example, students wanted guacamole made from scratch with healthy ingredients so they could use the avocado with the tortas recipe. But if it did not fall within the district’s budget, it’s out. The budget was so tight that it only allocated about 50 to 80 cents to produce an entree. Can students still eat healthy and this cheap to stay without the bounds of the budget? Maybe the high-school students need to grow their own produce on school grounds not used for play or in Sacramento’s urban community gardens. On the other hand, some ingredients too expensive for the school’s budget would have had to be swapped out to make the recipes satisfy the district’s nutritional guidelines and for their seasonality.
How do you change parent’s and children’s eating habits at home in Sacramento?
Sure, healthier food substitutions are great. But the real issue when it applies to Sacramento nutrition and children or teenagers is how much change will the Healthy Foods Task Force make in Sacramento foods served to children in schools–breakfast and lunch?
Sacramento City Unified school district finally began a Healthy Foods Task Force in 2011 to look at changes to public school breakfast and lunch menus. Now that the back-to-school season of 2011 has started, the question is about what’s going to help? One answer is the development of district-wide school gardens to grow vegetables and fruits. Some of those school gardens exist now on a few campuses. But what’s wonderful is the integration of nutrition education into what’s taught in public schools.
The task force includes nutritionists, Soil Born Farms, a chef, Patrick Mulvaney of midtown Sacramento’s Mulvan’s, as well as parents and educators. (Why don’t you put some students on the task force as well, for example, nutrition majors?) The task force also is getting help from local nonprofit Valley Vision and the Sacramento Region Food System Collaborative (healthy eating policies). What Sacramento students need is improved access to nutritious food.
You can’t use the excuse that the students will only eat food with which they are familiar. You have a melting pot of diverse ethnic foods that have healthy ingredients here in Sacramento, including a lot of vegan meals such as salads. The media examines high schools, but when you look also at some elementary schools in Sacramento, they already have salad bars featuring green and orange vegetables, dried fruit, and a variety of choices in salad pickings.
You might add more diversity, such as taking out the raisins that stick to the teeth and substituting other fruits that help prevent tooth decay, such as cranberries. Or perhaps substitute blueberries and strawberries instead of raisins and crackers–all of which cling to your teeth. You don’t see kids brushing after meals in school. That’s why teeth-friendly fruits, such as berries, are welcome.
Nutrition education will be incorporated into classroom teachings. For example, San Juan school district hosts “harvest of the month” since 2005. You have numerous teachers ordering produce kits from the Food Services Dept. Produce suppliers donate the kits.
More produce suppliers could get involved with schools to help create lesson plans or activities each month on different vegetables. If you’re looking for variety on a salad bar, schools could take a lesson from the variety of salads offered at the Fresh Choice restaurant salad bar in Sacramento.
You have a lot of students eating free breakfast and lunch at school. Instead of the prepared, processed foods the students usually get to save money. Instead of cold cereals and milk, should high school-age students learn to cook some meals from scratch? It’s all about the budget, of course.
Some Children Eat Two Meals a Day at School
Some children are eating two meals a day at school. Why serve them corn dogs, pizza, fries, and burgers when you could offer a salad bar with more choices from fruit and vegetables to cheese and sliced peaches or mango chunks, raspberries, jicama, strawberries, and lots of finely chopped greens, such as celery, broccoli, and spinach combined with carrots?
Too many Sacramento school meals are fried chicken instead of grilled meats. Kids don’t need deep fried foods when they’re eating two meals a day at school. But again, it’s about how much money is available to spend on which foods. With some kids, they might come home and in the evening are eating pretty much the same types of processed foods such as cheese and fried meats or sausages. You don’t have to cook meats deep or fish fried in fat. You can grill the food or steam it with water. Some parents buy fast foods to feed their kids after school hours are over.
Some elementary schools have a Pizza Day. Kids could get a pile of finely chopped raw vegetables on top of the pizza, like fresh tomatoes instead of canned sauce with a metallic taste.
You have hundreds of students getting free or reduced price breakfast and lunches at schools. San Juan Unified school district in Sacramento has salad bars in its 50 elementary schools put in by 2006. Variety of choices might increase to attract students to the salad bars. Yet few foods are made from scratch. This year, though San Juan is considering making more recipes from scratch.
It’s going to cost more. One answer is having the students raise their own vegetables on school property. Some schools got rid of chocolate milk at breakfast because kids don’t need a sugar crash by 10 am.
Whole grain cereals and breads are fine, but it would be better if kids ate whole oat groats instead of processed cold cereals. Who will take the challenge and bake whole-grain no-yeast bread or cook cereals from scratch? The cost again comes up.
You think that children are going to come home after school and get nutritious food at home? Maybe some parents are aware, but many still are buying processed, ready-to-eat foods for convenience at home. Working parents may not prepare meals in advance from scratch and freeze them. So kids may get three meals a day of processed foods and have one chance at school to access a salad bar. How many parents whose kids get free breakfast and lunches are on a raw plant foods diet for at least part of the week?
What Helped to Create the Healthy Foods Task Force in Sacramento?
Kids this past winter and spring were lining up daily for breakfasts of sausage pizzas and corn dogs at Sacramento elementary schools, according to the April 18, 2010 Sacramento Bee article, by Melody Gutierrez, “Sacramento area schools try to serve healthier food.”
If the only place parents and teachers have to look is the U.S. Senate, then the nutrition guidelines pending there currently may be a step toward getting salty, fatty, and sugary processed foods out of public school lunch menus in Sacramento.
You have to contend with what kids eat for breakfast in school and what they eat for lunch. Besides the issue of obesity and children, you have the issue of anorexia in kids trying to emulate models on magazine covers. In the middle between the two extremes are most kids subjected to up to two meals a day at school of mostly processed, pre-cooked, or frozen, packaged foods bought because of the cost.
Few foods were made from scratch because of budget restrictions on the cost. Perhaps next year in Sacramento, more foods will be made from scratch. Then the cost will be considered again. If the vegetables were grown on school grounds or more producers of food became involved, perhaps the cost might be adjustable.
School Meals Are a Big Issue with the Government
School meals are a big issue with the government. Michelle Obama has been traveling across the USA or broadcasting on television for schools and families to take some action to prevent or reverse childhood obesity. Our children will be the first generation to develop chronic diseases related to diet and lifestyle at an earlier age than our grandparents did in the 1940s.
You can’t turn on your TV set without seeing reality shows about school cafeteria workers or comments about the quality of food served in public schools. It’s going to take people with the power to change standards to make any improvements in the local nutrition standards of what’s served in Sacramento’s elementary school cafeterias.
Instead of serving choices of raw food diets or lots of fruit and vegetables other than fried potatoes or battered zucchini and fried corn hush puppies, in most of the local and national elementary schools a large number of packages of frozen, processed foods arrive with the only cooking being done is a batch of salty, processed foods full of fat, salt, and sugar getting warmed up in an oven. Who’s really cooking meals in the public school cafeteria kitchens?
Most of the foods are processed. Once the food is processed, it’s dead food. It’s not sprouted grain, and not green leafy vegetables that are raw or balanced. It’s food that has lost most of its nutritional value and taste. On one hand, you have Sacramento City School’s Healthy Foods Task Force looking at standards.
On the other hand, you have parents objecting to the processed corn dog breakfasts kids are getting in Sacramento elementary schools where finger food like hot dogs on a stock and fried corn batter is convenient. The corn dogs are heated and served.
Time is saved from having to prep raw vegetables or slice fresh fruit. Who’s planning healthier breakfasts for kids? If the parents are working and don’t have time to cook, and the schools are serving heated processed food that arrived frozen, not many people are taking the time to cook from raw materials and live foods.
Are kids eating white bread or whole wheat made by adding caramel coloring to flour instead of eating flourless no-yeast bread made from sprouted lentils and grains? No. Unless it’s baked from scratch, and time is no problem, it’s expensive.
Of course, you could teach the kids how to bake their own bread and invite them to show their parents how they do it. But for food servers, the answer so far as been to serve foods that take little time to prepare, comes packaged, processed, and within the budget. This year, however, more food will be at least considered to be prepared from scratch.
You’ve heard it before, the adage, “the whiter the bread, the sooner you’re dead.” If you work as a school cafeteria cook or server, you know what the answer is: there’s not enough money or equipment in school cafeterias.
And without resources and staff, you’re as limited as the government is when it comes to inspecting food that is imported. So both cafeteria workers and government inspectors are strapped for resources, money, and staff, let alone time.
What is good about schools is that there are salad bars, but they’re not at all schools. And when you look at costs, what’s really in those salad bars? Is it iceberg lettuce that has little nutrition?
Or is it Romaine lettuce with more nutrition and salad greens, including spinach, arugula, and some of those colorful purple lettuce that you see on supermarket produce shelves? If you don’t have money to buy those foods for school salad bars, then plant the green salad pickings in back of the school instead of just having lawns? You need a small, sustainable community garden at elementary schools.
Students can plant the vegetables that eventually end up in the school’s salad bar. It’s part of the slow-food, urban community gardens in the schools movement. Local farmers also can supply schools with greens for their salad bars, if the farmers find a way to get the produce to the schools. Is transportation being provided? Or are the vegetables rotting in local farmer’s fields while school kids are dining on processed foods?
The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 puts the burden on the federal government to give grants that would help to pay for vegetables and fruits from local farmers. Why import vegetables or fruits frozen from another country, when local farmers are eager to find ways to get their produce to markets, such as public schools? What parents want for school children is food that’s safe and nutritious.
You can research the local Davis Farm to School Programs — FarmtoSchool.org. According to its website, the farmers’ market salad bar, called “Crunch Lunch,” of the Davis Joint Unified School District is a daily buffet-style array of in-season fruits and vegetables sourced from local farmers.
The salad bar is offered daily as an alternative to the regular hot meal. The program was started in 1999 as a way to link the district’s already thriving school garden program. The Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) works in partnership with the Davis Farm to School Connection in order to implement and maintain the Crunch Lunch salad bar at each school site.
The program got off the ground in 2000 with a $46,235 grant from the Initiative for Future Agricultural and Food Systems. Additional money was received from the California Department of Education’s Nutrition Services Department for development of links between classrooms, school gardens, and food service and from the California Integrated Waste Management Board for vermi-composting, waste diversion, and recycling.
Other organizations also received money to pay for for program evaluation, farm tours, and program expansion throughout California. Supplementary funds were sought out and received for ongoing support of the program. Start-up equipment costs totaled nearly $10,000 for three schools.
In the first year program costs were $23,609, with the help of grant funding, the salad bar program was able to run at a profit its first two years, according to the Davis, CA, Farm to School Programs site. No matter what public elementary school in Sacramento your child attends, the school districts are serving the same menu items at all the elementary schools in this area. Some schools offer salad bars, and some do not.
If your child attend an elementary school that is classified as a “poor” school, the child qualifies for free and/or reduced lunches. A lot of kids depend on the school meals for most of their nutrition such as breakfast and lunch and come home to a dinner of take-out foods, fries, or macaroni and cheese processed foods at home, particularly if the parents are trying to stretch food budgets.
School Nutrition Association
Other children from Sacramento’s poorer areas rely on school food as the only food they get each day. You can research the websites of organizations such as the School Nutrition Association. According to the Sacramento Bee article, Davis Joint Unified has one of the most acclaimed nutrition programs in the country. The district serves fruits and vegetables from local farms. The teriyaki chicken and Moroccan pork for $3.25 are cooked as slow-food.
These foods aren’t a 2011 version of the frozen 1950-style TV dinner that your grandparents used to heat up for dinner. How difficult is it to raise enough money to have food made from scratch instead of serving kids deep fried formerly frozen chicken nuggets? How much money can you raise by fundraising? It took thousands of dollars from fundraising efforts to serve many of the foods cooked from scratch at Davis Joint Unified schools, according to the Sacramento Bee article, “Sacramento area schools try to serve healthier food.Check out another article, Greening the Plate of School Lunch. See some slides from a presentation of the whys and hows of starting a Farm to School program.
What do Sacramento School Lunches Serve?
Have you looked lately at the local menus of junior high school-middle school lunches? Is it burgers and fries, chicken, grilled cheese, fries, or anything at all like the lunches kids take to school such as avocado and grated carrot nori sea vegetable rolls with brown rice, sprouted corn tortillas filled with Parmesan and spinach, wild-caught canned salmon, celery, carrots, and grape seed oil mayonnaise or sardines?
Check out what Sacramento middle schools serve for lunch. See the PDF file article, Sacramento City Unified School District 2009/2010 Secondary Menu. How about spicy chicken sandwiches and cheeseburgers? Also see, Folsom Cordova Unified School District.
Now, you can’t say the school lunches caused your child’s obesity. But a new study links middle-school lunches in general to obesity. Why? What’s the link? Your child’s lunch menu can be found online. Check it out. Or perhaps your child’s school lunch looks like fast food with barbeque chicken and sauce, lettuce, and fries or burgers with sliced onion and pickles? Take your pick of school lunches. Some are good and some might be linked to obesity. Check out what’s cooking in Sacramento middle school cafeterias.
Students who regularly eat school-furnished lunches are more likely to be overweight and have higher levels of cholesterol than those who eat meals brought from home, a new study found. But studies like these have been going on for years. The latest survey of middle-schoolers found that 39 percent of those who always or almost always had cafeteria meals were overweight or obese, compared with 24 percent of those bringing food from home.
Study Finds Children Who Eat School Lunches More Likely to be Overweight
Check out the study done by researchers, from the University of Michigan Health Systems in Ann Arbor. The scientists presented their findings March 13, 2010 at a meeting of heart specialists in Atlanta. Read the study’s results. See the March 13, 2010 University of Michigan study’s press release, Children who eat school lunches more likely to be overweight.
What you need to understand is that scientists didn’t specify that school lunches caused the children to be overweight. What the study found, according to the survey results, focused on added evidence of unhealthy diets and lack of exercise in the same group that regularly went through the lunch line. Still, the research adds to evidence that some schools don’t do enough to fight obesity in American youths.
The question in nutrition, is do parents blame children’s obesity on genes inherited from one or more family members? Or on food habits that are difficult to change? Are food habits based on taste? Do bad food habits change the way the brain perceives the taste of vegetables? Or do family members blame obesity on what the children eat in school, out of school, or on lack of exercise in favor of video games, computers, TV, or even too much homework?
Do families make the connection between familiar foods or traditional meals made with unhealthy ingredients compared to what substitutions could be made at home or in schools? For example, before a slice of toast topped with butter and cheese or bacon is given to a child, does the school (or the family member) think maybe a healthier substitution for a familiar food could be made?
One example would be instead of margarine on bread, how about a drizzle of olive oil spiced with minced garlic or sliced tomato? Or instead of a smoothie of milk and ice cream like those 1950s familiar malts, how about putting into the blender a handful of spinach tossed into a cup of pomegranate juice, a few almonds, some flax seeds, a serving of whey or rice protein powder, a tablespoon of psyllium husk, a tablespoon of whole wheat germ or if allergic to grain, a spoon of sesame or flax seeds, and 3/4 cup of blueberries?
Blend it all into a smoothie, and taste it. Do you really need that milkshake or malt when you could substitute fruit, nuts, seeds, vegetables, and no-sugar added fruit juice? One study reported March 13, 2010, found that middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits and have high levels of “bad” cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home, according to new University of Michigan Health System research presented March 13 at the American College of Cardiology’s 59th annual scientific session.
Although previous studies have looked at the nutritional content of school lunches, this is the first study to assess the impact of school lunches on children’s eating behaviors and overall health—a critical issue amid skyrocketing rates of childhood overweight and obesity, which can set the stage for future heart disease and premature death.
A team of U-M Cardiovascular Center researchers collected and analyzed health behavior questionnaires completed by 1,297 sixth graders at Michigan public schools over a period of almost three years. They discovered that children who consume school lunches were more likely to be overweight or obese (38.8 percent vs. 24.4 percent) than those who ate lunches brought from home.
Children who ate school meals were more than twice as likely to consume fatty meats (25.8 percent vs. 11.4 percent) and sugary drinks (36 percent vs. 14.5 percent), while also eating fewer fruits and vegetables (16.3 percent vs. 91.2 percent). Researchers also found these children had higher levels of low-density lipid cholesterol (or “bad cholesterol”) than their home-fed counterparts. Students reported on what they consumed throughout the day—not just at lunchtime.
“This study confirms the current and escalating national concern with children’s health, and underscores the need to educate children about how to make healthy eating and lifestyle choices early on,” says Elizabeth Jackson, M.D., MPH, assistant professor of internal medicine at the U-M Health System, according to the study. Also see the news release, Children who eat school lunches more likely to be overweight.
“Although this study doesn’t provide specific information on nutrient content of school lunches, it suggests there is a real opportunity to promote healthy behaviors and eating habits within the school environment. This is where kids spend a majority of their time.”
In addition to gathering information on dietary habits, researchers looked at sixth graders’ self reports of physical activity, involvement in sports, and sedentary behaviors such as watching TV or playing video games. They also collected information on student weight, height as well as blood glucose and cholesterol levels.
“Good heart health starts at a very young age,” Jackson says, according to the study. “School-based initiatives like Project Healthy Schools can really make a difference in promoting healthy eating choices throughout the day.” Project Healthy Schools is designed to teach sixth grade students about heart-healthy lifestyles, with hopes of reducing their future risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes, and is supported by a broad community partnership.
While the findings from the present study are concerning, Jackson says, according to the study, that she is encouraged because there is more awareness among parents and children about their heart health than ever before. She reinforces the need to consistently integrate small steps to support heart health—for example, holding farm fresh food days during which students learn about fresh produce, walking to school and health education about healthy food choices.
There are other, potentially confounding issues that Jackson and her team are teasing out, including whether there is a possible correlation between socioeconomic status and heart health in children of low-income families who take advantage of free school meal programs. Recent data show that while an estimated 30.6 million U.S. students consume school lunches, only 6 percent of school lunch programs meet the requirements established by the School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children. Additionally, children who bring meals from home are also exposed to competing foods from school cafeterias, vending machines and trading with other students.
“As a parent, you’re not completely sure what you’re packing in their lunches is what they are actually consuming; foods can be traded or they can get snacks from vending machines, so it can be hard to know what they are putting into their bodies,” Jackson says in the study’s report, adding that parents can help shape food choices by modeling good eating behaviors at home and on the go.
Researchers state that more research is needed to better understand whether healthier school lunches will lead to healthier behaviors among school-aged children. This study was funded, in part, by the University of Michigan, the Atkins Foundation and the Thompson Foundation, among others.
Can children really get a healthy lunch in school unless they bring their own food from home? Two years ago there was another similar study. In fact, school lunches have been linked to childhood obesity, for years.
Childhood Obesity and Type 2 Diabetes
Is childhood obesity the reason we’re seeing an increase in children developing Type 2 Diabetes? It seems obvious that we need to start serving healthy lunches in our schools, and a 2008 study shows that making these nutritional changes does have a positive affect. What would you put into a new program for school lunches?
Maybe a new lunch program needs to be put in action in schools. According to the previous 2008 study, 1,349 students had been followed from fourth to sixth grade. There was about a 50 percent reduction in the incidence (new cases) of overweight at the end of 2 years among the children attending the program schools, while no changes were seen among the children attending the schools without a program.
For example, at Bret Harte elementary school, almost 450 of 500 students eat a free breakfast and lunch at school. What can the school afford to feed them for free? The cost is covered by the federal government.
The district is doing a lot to promote better food choices. But what can it really do on the present budget? Options are needed, for example, having students and produce farmers work together to grow food on campus with the help of organizations such as Soil Born Farms and similar groups.
There is a way to serve more nutritious foods to kids in schools and still be able to afford it. Community urban gardens is one answer. So are other answers, when you have in Sacramento produce rotting in the fields nearby because local farmers can’t afford to get their vegetables or fruits to a market.
Also, farmers’ markets might become involved in more food choices for kids in school. Parents also need to join in the effort. There’s going to be resistance to ingrained food habits and tight family budgets for food. But there is a way to help, especially by getting more celebrity chefs involved. For further information see the May 18, 2011 Sacramento Bee article, “Not satisfied, Luther Burbank student cooks get their shot.”
The UC Davis Farm to School Program
What Sacramento needs is what is working well in Davis. It’s a unique model that combines strong partnerships among community members, businesses like Sutter Health and the Davis Farmers Market, the school board, and local growers and distributors. You can check out the website of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, division of food, nutrition and consumer services. And you can check out the Farm to School program in Davis. You need community support and involvement in programs like the UC Davis program called the Farm to School Program. See, Farm-to-School Programs – UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and the article, [PDF] Farm-to-School Programs as a Strategy.
In November 2008, according to its website, the Davis Joint Unified School District (DJUSD) and Davis Farm to School (DF2S) entered into a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to collaboratively support the health and education of all DJUSD students. This report measures the progress of DJUSD in its efforts to increase farm fresh food in schools during the 2009 – 2010 school year. See the site, Crunch Lunch Manual: Farm-to-School Case Study. Farm-to-School is a nationwide movement that connects local farmers who can provide fresh, seasonal produce with school food services for healthier school lunches. Also see the articles, Sacramento Area Farm to School Programs – Farm to School Programs and Farm to School – Benefits and Research Related to Farm to School.
The Davis program—one of an estimated 2,200 such programs in 44 states, according to the Center for Food & Justice—aims to get local produce incorporated into school meals. Currently, 53 percent of all produce used by the schools comes from within 300 miles. That’s up from about 20 percent a couple of years ago. Check out the site of the UC Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education Program project and the article from the Davis Farm to School Connection steering committee, [PDF] Going Green Press Release 08 – Davis Farm To School. When it comes to school lunches, the goal also is going green.
So how do you serve the one-third of the district’s 8,500 students who eat lunch at school? These kids are eating at school either through programs that provide free or reduced-price lunches or by buying meals. The remaining two-thirds bring their lunches or eat off campus. Perhaps you’d like to help Farm-to-School raise money? The program also is supported by a parcel tax voted by Davis citizens in 2007, with a portion of the $70,000 a year earmarked for food programs going to school lunches. But Sacramento needs what Davis has, a way to raise funds for better school lunches. Who pays? And what are the priorities in this back-to-school season?