Preventing Type 2 Diabetes: A Look At School Lunches
Our children, all of them, deserve to be served nutritious lunch foods at school; their learning ability and long-term health are at stake.
The reality is that many schools in the US are serving students processed lunch foods loaded with sugar, synthetic ingredients, and of low nutritional value.
This is possible because federal guidelines for school lunches allow strange things such as pizza sauce and French fries being counted as vegetable servings.
In a 2006 book called Lunch Lessons, the authors Cooper and Holmes reported that in the prevailing school lunch program, 46 percent of vegetable servings eaten by kids ages 2 to 19, nationwide, were French fries.
Our Kid’s Health
The effect this may be having on the health of our children is evident in a 2010 Michigan study. It revealed that over a thousand sixth graders who regularly ate school lunches were 29 percent more likely to be obese than students who ate lunches made at home.
The Michigan school lunch students also tended to consume more sugary drinks, were less likely to eat at least two fruit and two veggie servings each day, and were more likely to lead sedentary lives.
People familiar with diabetes know that a low nutrient, high sugar diet combined with a lack of exercise is a recipe for weight gain and the onset of metabolic syndrome—a precursor to type 2 diabetes.
Some school’s lunches are so undesirable kids are taking matters into their own hands. Recently, students at Theodore Roosevelt High School in the Chicago area boycotted their school lunch program for three days, hoping to force the lunch provider and the Chicago Public Schools to serve higher quality foods. About 80 percent of the students participated.
The Roosevelt students are typically offered either chicken patties, pizza, or hamburgers for lunch, but prefer that sandwiches, salads, and fresh fruits be served—and it’s not just these Chicago students who care. A recent survey published in Childhood Obesity shows that 70 percent of our kids want healthier, and tastier lunches.
Yet, the core of the problem is not the schools’ food providers. It is our federal school lunch guidelines that allow bottom-of-the-barrel processed foods such as pink slime* to be an acceptable part of school lunch programs.
What do they serve for lunch at your child’s, or grandchild’s school? Some school districts are making an effort to serve better quality lunches, and maybe that is the case in your area. However, even healthy sounding products such as yogurt and fruit juices can be full of additives, food dyes, and added sugars.
Though feeding thousands of school children whole, fresh foods might seem a Herculean task, one suggestion is to supply school lunch programs via more local and regional food producers and processors. This could not only improve school lunch flavor and nutrition, but would also support local economies, and theoretically save schools money.
*Pink slime is a nickname given to scraps from slaughtered cows that are pulverized, defatted, subjected to ammonia steam to kill pathogens, and then congealed in a ground beef filler.