Thursday, January 2, 2014

School lunches explained

   My recent editorial about the school’s food stereotype was published in the last newspaper and it gained some attention from Board Office staff. Debbie Harper, our county’s school nutritionist, came and spoke to me and the rest of the newspaper staff about the school lunch and breakfast policies. 
   Did you know that this generation of children will be the first generation that has a shorter life expectancy than their parents? There is an increase in the incidence of diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure, and hypertension in children. Our school follows the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) and School Breakfast Program (SBP) which help to set guidelines and requirements to make sure students get and stay healthy. These programs provide balanced and well-nourished meals that help preventing further health issues.

   For lunch, high school students are allowed 750-850 calories per day. For middle school students, lunch can contain 600-700 calories per day. In the elementary schools, students are allowed 550-650 calories per day. The amount served fluctuates throughout an average five-day week to provide a healthy variation in calorie intake. Even though it is probably healthier for the average student, is it still that healthy for high school athletes? Some students eat at lunch and then that’s all they have until their practices end at five, six, or even seven.Is that number of calories enough to provide athletes with enough energy to perform well? Most would say no.
   The USDA’s meal patterns for the NSLP and SBP include five subgroups of vegetables that count toward the daily and weekly vegetable requirements. Students often comment about how strange or random some of the food is that’s served in the cafeteria. A chart showing some of the foods in each group is below. All information was provided by Debbie Harper school nutritionist at the Jackson County Board Office. Students are required to have one cup of vegetables a day. Those vegetables can be chosen from any one of these subgroups. Weekly, students are required to have ½ a cup of the Dark Green subgroup, one and ¼ a cup of the Red/Orange subgroup, ½ a cup of Beans/Peas (legumes), ¾ a cup of Starchy vegetables, and ½ a cup of Other subgroup.

   I understand the need for healthier portions and calorie control, but sometimes it seems a little too extreme. I’m sure the student body will become less obese and health problems will decrease because it doesn’t seem like there is much of an option not to. I respect the schools decisions and even though I understand the programs better now, I still believe it’s a little stereotypical.

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