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What’s the Scoop on Your Child’s Lunch Tray | March 4, 2009

Given our heighted concerns over the alarming childhood obesity it is no wonder that when it comes to nutritional influences, we turn to the two major environmental influencers—school and home. According to the just released Third National School Nutrition Dietary Assessment (SNDA) 50 million children attend school in the U.S. That number represents more than 80% of all youth. Breakfasts, snacks and lunches are all available at school, so it stands to reason that if we want to change what children are eating, we may want to focus on schools.

One of SNDA’s findings was that school lunch participants consumed more nutritious meals than non-participants. They also found that school lunch participants were not more likely to be overweight than non participants. Yet, school lunch has been getting a bad rap for years. In fact school lunch prides itself in providing 1/3 of the RDA for calories, nutrients, vitamins, minerals and fiber.

The truth is, Northern Idaho schools dish out some of the healthiest meals in the state and have won national acclaim. They offer choices of fruits and vegetables at each meal, purchase lower fat versions of high fat foods, offer vegetarian options and provide a nutrient analysis of every meal. How does an Idaho school lunch compare to other options? Here is a quick nutrient comparison:


Nutrition Information:

RDA-Children

(1/3 of RDA for lunch meal)

Idaho School Lunch:

Lasagna, garlic bread, veggie choice, fruit choice, cookie and milk

Home Lunch 1:

Lunchable--Deep Dish Pepperoni Pizza w/Reeses Pb Cup and 12 oz Cola

Home Lunch 2:

Pb & Jelly Sandwich, chips, 4 cookies and  juice box

Fast Food Lunch:

Hamburger Deluxe

French Fries and 12 oz soda

Calories

664

654 

760

823

1290

Total Fat

Less than 30% of calories

  22 gms   (26%)

   28  gms (33 %)

  33  gms (36%)

  62  gms  (43%)

Total Carbs

 

118 gms (60%)

105  gms (55%)

122 gms  (57%)

151  gms  (47%)

Total Protein

7 gms 

  32 gms   (16%)

  22  gms (12%)

  15 gms  (7%)

  32  gms   (10%)

Fiber

11 gms

    8 gms

    4  gms

    5 gms

     6 gms


According to SNDA, the biggest problem in schools comes from the amount of competitive foods available. Those are foods and beverages sold in school vending machines, snack bars, school stores or fundraisers. Almost half of school children consume one or more competitive food on a given school day. An extra 130-290 calories per day coming from low-nutrient high calorie snacks can quickly add on about 30,000 extra calories per year, or around ten pounds. No wonder our youth are in trouble.

Schools can have a powerful influence by providing healthful meals and school food environments. Kudos to CDA School District and Ed Ducar, Director of Nutrition Services. Ed and his team have developed a school wellness policy and already have nutrition standards in place for foods sold at school. Gone are the pop and candy machines. Post Falls School District also has made the move to offer healthier items, by removing pop machines. As schools begin to step up to the plate, parents also must play a key role in modeling healthful eating behavior, at home and away from it.