Feature Articles: Food, Fitness and Children
Help kids adjust to changes in school lunch program
Bethany Bachmann, Nutrition and Health Education
Specialist, Perry County, University of Missouri Extension
With the beginning of the school year, students saw a big change in meals being served up in the school cafeteria. As part of the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010, updated standards for school meals were put into place and went into effect on July 1, 2012. The Act and new standards were put in place to improve the school food environment in order to help promote health and nutrition and reduce obesity.
So what has changed? Well, just about everything. Some of the changes include:
- Students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day, with even more specifications placed on what type of vegetables are to be served.
- Half of the grains served must be whole grain, whereas before that was only encouraged, not required.
- Milk products must now be low-fat or nonfat and only nonfat milk can be flavored.
- Calories and sodium levels are being restricted based on the grade level of the students.
- There is also an increased focus now on reducing saturated fats, trans fats and added sugars.
With the new standards come some roadblocks for both the school staff and the students. One complaint that has been found in many schools is that the students are throwing away more food than usual. Many of the students have not been exposed to some of the items that are now found on school menus so they may try it and say they don’t like it or simply throw it away because they just assume they don’t like it. With this comes an even bigger problem — students end up leaving the lunch table still hungry. Research has shown that students who go hungry are outperformed by their well-nourished counterparts. This is a problem that has to be resolved.
It’s imperative that parents are on board with the new changes and support their children’s schools in this effort. Children pick up on all of the attitudes and behaviors of their parents, so it's important that parents set the right tone. Sit down with your kids at the beginning of the week and look over the school menu. See if there are items the child is unfamiliar with and encourage them to try those items. Try making some of the items at home. It’s not enough to have your child try a new food once and then never make it again if they say they do not like it. Children need to try foods many times before they like them. Be persistent! Also, be the example — if you are willing to try something new or if you eat healthy foods on a regular basis, your children are likely to mimic your behavior.
Another fantastic way to help the younger kids is by eating lunch with them. Join your child for lunch at school. If you aren’t able to do this, make sure you take time when they get home from school to chat about what they had for lunch, including what they ate and what they didn't eat.
Kids also need to be aware of where their food comes from. Discuss with your kids where fruits and vegetables come from and how they are grown. Talk about how grain products are made and where dairy and protein foods originate. Also, take them grocery shopping with you. Let them pick out a new fruit or vegetable once a week to eat at home.
If we want to see an improvement in the health of the younger generations, we have to be the champions for it! Set the tone with your children and encourage a healthy, nutritious diet and lifestyle.
Lastly, don’t forget to commend those who are making all of this happen in your schools. School administrators, teachers and food service workers are working hard to make sure your kids get filling, healthy meals every day. Take the time to say thank you to them.
Last update: Tuesday, July 29, 2014