New school lunch mandates reasonable

Don Heinzman
ECM Columnist

A concern is simmering over the federal school lunch requirements aimed at preventing children from becoming overweight (excess weight in general) and obese (excess fat).

To be reimbursed by the government, school lunch directors must follow a menu that has more fruits and vegetables and smaller portions of meat, breads and dinner rolls. All breads must be at least 51 percent whole grains. In addition, transfats have been eliminated and sugar and sodium have been reduced.

Under this new regular-price school lunch offering, a student must take a minimum of a 1/2 cup of fruit and a minimum of a 1/2 cup of vegetables, plus they are entitled to two other choices.

In at least one Twin Cities area school district, however, some students are taking the cheaper regular lunch, but are not eating the fruit and vegetables. School lunch servers in one school said they counted more than 170 servings of uneaten fruit and unopened juice in one month.

Some students bring their own lunches or pick food off a la carte. Since fewer students are taking the regular lunch, fewer school lunches are being reimbursed, forcing some school districts to increase school lunch prices. That’s what is happening in a district where participation is down 1.2 to 9.8 percent since the restrictions went into effect. That district will get fewer reimbursement dollars.

To put this in perspective, however, nationwide participation in the regular hot lunch program is down 3 percent. A spokesperson at the Minnesota Department of Education said that in the state overall, participation has not gone down.

Battling student obesity by offering healthier choices for school lunches is reasonable, since the program itself may once have added pounds to students with its menu of starchy and fatty foods.

Few would dispute that getting students to pick healthier choices and limiting obesity is a good thing.

The National Health Center for Health Statistics says, in the past 30 years, the number of obese kids 6-11 doubled and the number for those up to 18 years old tripled. In 2010, more than a third of children and adolescents were either overweight or obese.

One expert observed that if the trend continues, one out of every three children born today will face a future with diabetes. Obese children are more vulnerable to serious diseases. According to a Stanford California study, obesity is a major cause of diabetes, heart disease, joint problems including osteoarthritis, sleep apnea and respiratory problems, along with some cancers, particularly in overweight women.

Maybe we all should eat more fruits and vegetables and less meat and bread and set an example for the kids who think they are put upon when they have to eat minimal servings of fruits and vegetables.

Don Heinzman is a columnist for ECM Publishers and a member of the ECM Editorial Board.