Today one of my students came back from lunch and said, "They are doing Michelle Obama's thing!"
I said, what do you mean?
"They are giving seconds only on vegetables and fruit, but not on the pizza!" she said, smiling. She did not seem fazed by this in the slightest bit, but I wondered if some of my students were.
Hmmm, I thought, an 11 year old's perspective on Michelle Obama and the USDA's new school nutrition guidelines. A word on the street, of sorts.
The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act, championed by first lady Michelle Obama, made major improvements in school nutrition. The new school meals have more whole grains, fruits, and vegetables; low-fat milk; and less salty and fatty foods. This is a major effort to combat obesity, which over the last four decades, rates have more than quadrupled in children and more than tripled in adolescents.
The USDA website is loaded with resources about these improvements. They have a page for teachers, parents, students, food service employees and community members. Here are the main goals of the new school lunch improvements:
• Ensure students are offered both fruits and vegetables every day of the week;
• Increase offerings of whole grain-rich foods;
• Offer only fat-free or low-fat milk;
• Limit calories based on the age of children being served to ensure proper portion size;
• Increase the focus on reducing the amounts of saturated fat, trans fats, added sugars, and sodium.
Our school didn't have much work to do to meet these new standards. Luckily, our chefs have been using whole wheat flour, limiting sweets, eliminating chocolate milk, and providing plenty of fruits and vegetables at every meal.
But other schools? Like the inner city Chicago school chronicled in the book Fed Up with Lunch? Loads of work to do-- just one look at the pictures from that book and you will see what I mean. Dough wrapped hot dogs, mystery meat, all foods packaged in plastic and loaded with sodium and artificial ingredients. Lots to improve and great progress to be made.
These kinds of improvements have the potential to close some of the poverty gap in education-- to improve the health and learning of our nation's neediest children. Our schools were doing such a disservice, especially to kids whose family's rely solely on school food for their nutrition. Many of these students are more likely to have learning and behavioral issues, from a lack of access to quality resources, including healthy food.
Every improvement in school food nutrition has the power to improve the lives of thousands of children nationwide.
While I am excited that my own students will have access to better nutrition to help their growing brains and bodies, and this will improve many school food programs by leaps and bounds, I have other concerns, too, such as the BPA and pesticide load of many conventional and canned fruits and vegetables used so frequently in schools because they are "free" from the government.
While the new standards are great progress for our nation's kids, we still have lots of work to do. The impact of improving school nutrition couldn't be greater. Children will learn more, be absent less, growth healthier and stronger the more nutritious we can make the food in our nation's schools.
I'll keep my ears open for more 11 year old insights into this important issue! They, after all, are the ones who will be running this place soon.