Does school lunch leave your kid with a grumbling tummy at the end of the day? Well good news: The USDA is allowing schools to serve more meat and grains in school lunches. These were limited before in an effort to help prevent (or at least not contribute to) child obesity. But schools and nutritionists complained that the lunches were leaving some kids hungry. Now schools have more flexibility in how they feed children, thanks to a bill introduced by North Dakota Republican Senator John Hoeven and Arkansas Democratic Senator Mark Pryor.
Hoeven made the announcement:
Today, the USDA made the permanent changes we have been seeking to the School Lunch Program. A one-size-fits-all approach to school lunch left students hungry and school districts frustrated with the additional expense, paperwork and nutritional research necessary to meet federal requirements. These are exactly the changes included in our Sensible School Lunch Act.
So great -- this sounds helpful, I guess. (The rules were temporarily relaxed, but this new law makes it permanent.) I'm all for more flexibility and not leaving kids hungry. I think more grains will help -- beans and some vegetables have been classified as grains in the past, which made it harder for schools to serve perfectly healthy and filling lunches that made sense to normal people but didn't add up in the twisted mathematics of school food. But more meat? Really? I thought there was already plenty allowed.
It's a good start, but if kids are really feeling hungry in the afternoon, I can think of a few changes that might be even more effective. The thing is, a lot of the food served in school gets thrown out by kids who don't eat it. Maybe it's less a matter of serving more food and more a matter of serving better food.
1. Serve food kids want to eat. Oh, the impossible dream! Where do we get this magical food that's good for you AND appealing to children? Some schools are working to get kids' input when they create meals -- it's worth the effort.
2. Give kids whole milk instead of low-fat milk. Jeebus, enough with the low-fat madness already. Lipids will help kids feel more full throughout the afternoon.
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3. Have recess before lunch. Kids will be more focused on eating because they won't be so restless. And they'll be hungrier. In one study, school lunch waste was reduced from 40 percent to 27 percent when kids had recess before lunch. Unfortunately, too many schools have phased out recess altogether.
4. Invest in nutrient-dense food, not cheap calories. Hey, I know -- pie in the sky. But as long as we're talking about what would work, this should go on the list.
5. Cut the sugar way, way back. So fine, sugar doesn't cause hyperactivity for most kids. But it can deliver one whopper of a crash in the afternoon. Not helpful.
Do you think kids aren't getting enough to eat at lunch?
Image via USDA/Flickr