Study Finds School Lunches From Home Not Up To National Standards

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Submitted by the Baylor College of Medicine

kidseatinghealthyIn a study of lunches brought from home at elementary and middle schools in the Houston area, researchers at the USDA/ARS Children’s Nutrition Research Center at Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital found that the lunches did not meet National School Lunch Program guidelines. Their report appears in JAMA Pediatrics.

“Most studies focus on the foods provided by the schools; but many children bring their lunches from home. Lunches from home should contain healthy foods and help children meet national dietary recommendations,” said Dr. Karen Cullen, professor of pediatrics at Baylor and senior author of the study.

Researchers examined lunches that were brought from home by 242 elementary and 95 middle school students. Nutrient and food group content of the lunches were assessed and compared with current National School Lunch Program guidelines. Per-serving prices for each item were averaged.

The study found that lunches from home had more sodium and fewer servings of fruits, vegetables, whole grains and milk. About 90 percent of lunches contained desserts, snack chips and sweetened beverages, which are not permitted in reimbursable school meals. The average cost of an elementary lunch from home was $1.93 and $1.76 for the intermediate school students.

“These results suggest that lunches from home may be an important area in need of budget–friendly interventions,” said Cullen.

Michelle L. Caruso from the Houston Department of Health and Human Services also took part in the study.

The study was funded in part by federal funds from the USDA/ARS under Cooperative Agreement No. 6250-51000-053. The work was also supported by grant RO1HD068349 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Development.

Why School Lunches Could Be Adding To The Obesity Epidemic And What You Can Do To Help

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groupkidsAs your child walks in from school, takes off his backpack and slumps on the couch, obviously exhausted from a full day of school, you may wonder why his energy has vanished. Ask him what he had for lunch in the school cafeteria, and you may find your answer.

From pizza and French fries to fruit dripping with rich corn syrup and canned, processed vegetables, your child’s food choices may be less than desirable to a health-conscious parent. It’s no wonder your child’s energy is gone and his clothes keep getting tighter.

Many parents are finding that school lunches could be adding to the childhood obesity epidemic. Luckily, there is something you can do to help.

What’s For Lunch?

“The problem with many school lunches, or meals rather, is that they are highly processed,” says Elizabeth Prebish, registered dietitian for Organic Life, provider of healthy lunches in Chicago, Illinois. “Many school lunches include processed meats, fried foods and high amounts of sugars or carbohydrates.”

With restricted budgets to feed large quantities of mouths, typical food service companies use conventional meats that contain hormones, antibiotics and steroids – all things small children do not need, says Prebish.

In addition to lunch, it’s possible your child is filling up on sweets as well. The school lunch system provides many opportunities for sweets, including offering ice cream and bakery items, not to mention chocolate milk. “Having these items as daily options is definitely a contribution to the obesity epidemic,” says Prebish. “These processed sugars are addictive, leaving children craving the same foods not only in school but when they are home as well.”

Snack Time

kidseatinghealthyFrom Halloween and fall festivals to school picnics and class parties, a celebration with food is a common occurrence in the classroom. Beyond the gorging of party cookies and cakes, some nutrition experts believe that even healthier snacks scheduled into the daily classroom schedule can contribute to childhood obesity.

“The number one way in which schools contribute to childhood obesity is by scripting snacks into the daily schedule,” says Adrienne Hew, nutrition specialist and founder of “Children who are well fed do not need snacks – having snacks scripted into the schedule drives them to want to eat even when they are not hungry.”

The idea of incorporating snacks into the school day derived from a practice used for diabetics that uses small meals throughout the day to help keep blood sugar steady, says Hew. “However, the snacks that are offered to children would kill a diabetic – crackers, cookies, Cheerios and juice,” she says.

Cooking Up Change

In order to prompt change, parents need to offer solutions and suggestions to school districts and school board members. Offering a viable solution that is realistic with decreased school budgets is key.

“I would love to see schools engage with the community by going to local farmers or food co-ops and cutting cheap or free deals to absorb their leftover produce or produce that isn’t perfect for selling at the stand but can still be salvaged for making soups, stews and salads,” says Hew.

Another inexpensive option would be to recruit culinary students to complete internships in the schools as apprenticing or head chefs under the supervision of the person who normally is in charge of budgeting, suggests Hew. This economically-appealing option would give interns the opportunity to practice their skills, prepare healthy, innovative meals for school lunches and afford the district with a cost-effective option.

Parents can also advocate for a food service system that offers more natural products, says Prebish. “If this is not an option, work with your food service provider to determine more healthful substitutions that the children will also enjoy,” she says. “Try for more natural, and even organic, products wherever possible.”

In addition to working with food service systems, make yourself known at school board meetings. Parents can work to improve lunch selections by speaking to the board, the community and fellow parents. At each meeting try to provide a suggestion for healthier options, such as replacing meat-based burgers with veggie burgers.

According to Dr. Timothy Radak, faculty member in the Public Health program at Walden University, veggie burgers typically have one-third the amount of fat, no cholesterol and are similar in regards to the amount of protein as meat-based burgers.

Suggest cost-saving, evidence-based ideas to show the benefits to the district’s bottom line and the overall health of each student on campus. Schools could also reduce or eliminate some foods with health risks, such as red meat, processed foods or sugary drinks, says Radak. “Use the cost savings to provide more fresh fruits, vegetables and low fat, nutritious meal options.”

More importantly, educate your child about food, healthy eating habits and smart options for lunch. It is possible that when given the option, he may toss out the pizza and French fries for the veggie burger.

– Submitted by Nancy Parker of

Food For Healthy Packed Lunches

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By Dr. Michael Wald

kidseatinghealthyAround half of all children take their lunch to school – that’s 5.5 billion packed lunches every year. Unfortunately, many of them are unhealthy!

According to a Food Standard’s Agency study, nine out of 10 packed lunches contain foods high in sugar, salt and saturates and fewer than half contain fruit. Here’s how to pack a nutritious lunch for your kids…

• Use wholegrain or whole meal bread, rolls and pitta and try ciabatta, mini baguettes, bagels and raisin or sun dried tomato bread for variety

• Pack pasta or rice salads instead of sandwiches from time to time

• Cut fat by using less butter, spread or mayo in sandwiches and choose low-fat fillings like lean ham, turkey, chicken, tuna in water, cottage cheese, Edam or banana

• Add two portions of fruit – don’t just stick to apples and pears, though. For variety, add grapes, fruit salad, a slice of melon, a small box of raisins or a can of fruit in juice

• Include cherry tomatoes, carrot and pepper sticks and add salad to sarnies

• In the winter, fill a flask with vegetable, tomato or carrot soup – or even a casserole or stew.

• Replace cakes, biscuits and chocolate with scones, fruit bread or low-sugar cereal bars (check the labels)

• Swap fizzy drinks for water, unsweetened fruit juice, fruit smoothies, cartons of semi-skimmed milk or unsweetened yogurt drinks.
Healthy Snacks for Children and Teenagers

• Fresh fruit – chop it into bite-sized pieces for young children to make it easier to eat or buy packs of ready-prepared fresh fruit slices or chunks

• Mini boxes of dried fruit such as raisins or small packs of apricots or mixed fruit

• Small packs of chocolate-covered raisins or nuts (avoid giving nuts to young children because of the risk of choking)

• Chopped up vegetables such as carrot, celery and pepper sticks and cherry tomatoes with a favorite dip (look for those low in salt and fat if you’re buying ready-made dips)

• Fresh popcorn made without salt or sugar

• Whole meal toast with peanut butter and banana or low-fat soft cheese and tomato

• Fruit smoothie

• Unsweetened yogurt drinks or a pot of low-fat fruit yogurt or fromage frais

• High-fiber cereal with semi-skimmed milk

• Whole meal sandwiches filled with lean meat, chicken, tuna in water, cheese or egg and salad.

• Small packets of unsalted nuts and seeds – try mixing with dried fruit.

– Dr. Michael Wald, aka The Blood Detective, is the director of nutritional services at Integrated Medicine of Mount Kisco, located in Westchester New York. He has appeared on ABC World News Tonight with Diane Sawyer, Channel 11 PIX, Channel 12 News, CNN, The Food Network and other media outlets. Dr. Wald earned the name Blood Detective for his reputation to find problems that are often missed by other doctors. He earned an MD degree, is a doctor of chiropractic and a certified dietician-nutritionist. He is also double-board certified in nutrition. He has published over a dozen books with three additional titles due for release late 2013 including: Frankenfoods – Genetically Modified Foods: Controversies, Lies & Your Health and Gluten-A-Holic: How to Live Gluten Free and the Blood Detective’s Longevity Secrets. Dr. Wald can be reached at: or or by calling: 914-242-8844.

Japan’s Healthy School Lunches

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strawberriesFrom Your Health Journal…..”Earlier this week, we wrote about how obesity is much lower in Japan than the United States. Today’s review is from the Washington Post in an article called On Japan’s school lunch menu: A healthy meal, made from scratch by Chico Harlan. In Japan’s schools, the children get a homemade meal for lunch just as their Mom or Dad would make. Schools in Japan give their students the sort of food they’d get at home — not at a ballgame, as in the United States. The meals are often made from scratch. They’re balanced but hearty, heavy on rice and vegetables, fish and soups, and they haven’t changed much in four decades. Is there a lesson here? How do they make this happen, and is it more costly? Is it something than can be copied into American schools? When it comes to food, Japan has some deeply ingrained advantages. Children are taught to eat what they are served, meaning they are prone to accept, rather than revolt against, the food on their plates. With childhood obesity rising in many parts of the United States, there may be something here to emulate, to possibly help overweight American children. Please visit the Washington Post web site (link provided below) to read the complete article.”

From the article…..

In Japan,school lunch means a regular meal, not one that harms your health. The food is grown locally and almost never frozen. There’s no mystery in front of the meat. From time to time, parents even call up with an unusual question: Can they get the recipes?

“Parents hear their kids talking about what they had for lunch,” said Tatsuji Shino, the principal at Umejima Elementary School in Tokyo, “and kids ask them to re-create the meals at home.”

Japan takes seriously both its food and its health and, as a result, its school lunches are a point of national pride — not a source of dismay. As other countries, including the United States, struggle to design school meals that are healthy, tasty and affordable, Japan has all but solved the puzzle, using a system that officials here describe as utterly common sense.

In the United States, where obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades, new legislation championed by Michelle Obama has pushed schools to debut menus with controversial calorie restrictions. But even the healthiest choices are generally provided by large agri-food companies, cooked off site, frozen and then reheated, and forced to compete in cafeterias with all things fried, salty and sweet.

Schools in Japan, by contrast, give children the sort of food they’d get at home, not at a stadium. The meals are often made from scratch. They’re balanced but hearty, heavy on rice and vegetables, fish and soups. The meals haven’t changed much in four decades.

Mealtime is a scene of communal duty: In both elementary and middle schools, students don white coats and caps and serve their classmates. Children eat in their classrooms. They get identical meals, and if they leave food untouched, they are out of luck: Their schools have no vending machines. Barring dietary restrictions, children in most districts can’t bring food to school, either, until they reach high school.

To read the full article…..Click here

A Student Letter About School Lunches In The News

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From Your Health Journal…..”A great article from the NewsTimes about a Kansas student who took a government class assignment to a new level. The student wrote a letter which got in the hands of US Senator Pat Roberts, who shared it with others in the Senate. The students letter criticized the effects of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new rules about calorie counts in school lunches. Funny thing, the student did not need to extra credit, but wanted to just express an opinion. Many times on this blog, we have discussed this issue, as many students have complained about not getting enough to eat under the new USDA guidelines. But the rules were recently tweaked to allow schools to use as many grains and as much meat as they want, though the broader calorie limits are still in place. Many critics had told the USDA that grains shouldn’t be limited because they were part of so many meals, and it would be difficult to always find the right size of meat. Please visit the NewsTimes (link provided below) web site to view the complete article. I always enjoy articles from this site, and I think you will too!”

From the article…..

A Kansas high school student’s extra-credit assignment in a government class was meant as an exercise in expressing her views on a hot topic. But it helped sway some opinions in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts said he received a letter from Lindsey Heward criticizing the effects of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s new rules about calorie counts in school lunches. Roberts, the No. 2 Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he shared her concerns with fellow lawmakers and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

“I didn’t need the extra credit. I was just expressing my opinion,” said Heward, a senior at Osage City High School.

Heward wrote Roberts that students were complaining about not getting enough to eat and not liking the choices of food. She wrote that the USDA could do more to fight obesity by encouraging family meals, helping people plan a food budget or changing lifestyles instead of pinching calories.

Roberts spoke to Heward and her classmates Tuesday at Osage City, and he encouraged them to participate in government in some manner and not be afraid to speak up. He said Heward’s letter was among a raft of criticism that forced the USDA to relax the guidelines.

Roberts said local school districts should be allowed the flexibility to run the lunch program without burdensome regulations. He added that 719 calories a meal wasn’t enough for the average high school student to consume.

“It’s ridiculous. You don’t do that at the USDA cafeteria, I can assure you,” Roberts told students.

To read the full article…..Click here