The Quality of food in our school system and how it affects our children’ health.
This issue has become very important to me. This is because I’ve become more aware of the quality of food or lack thereof in our school systems and the impact it has on our kids. This passion began at work. Every year my company will take on a few projects to help our communities. One such project was for an organization called No Kid Hungry. This organization is geared towards ending child hunger throughout the country with healthy meals. My company helped to raise money to donate but also asked employees to volunteer, we even got a food truck to help with handing out meals in a community. Being able to see firsthand how hunger and the lack of quality food or even just food in schools and our communities affects kids just adds fuel a growing passion.
How can we not have healthy foods, fruit or vegetables in our communities and schools? As Americans we waste about 11.5 billion pounds of garden produce every year. Which is enough to feed 28 million people. I have visited schools and seen firsthand what is being served to our young people. I know that most of us won’t eat some of what is served as lunch in our schools.
In 1981, the Reagan administration cut school lunch funding by $1.5 billion. This dramatically altered the menu. Districts now have just $1 per child per meal to spend on food costs. How can we possibly spend $1 per child per meal? No mother or caretaker with a family and kids can do this. With this shrinking federal budget that keeps getting smaller and smaller every year, fast food has crept into public schools as they struggle to feed kids. In 2011 fast foods chain began to supply lunches to schools in 47 states including New York, not New York City. In some schools a meal called the Walking Taco is served for lunch. This consists of chili and cheese served on a bed of Doritos chips and has become a staple. Some other tasty, inexpensive but high sodium content foods like pizza and corndogs are also being served to our children. Can you imagine the sodium content in any of these meals and how it would affect a child over the years? And many kids are being served a lot of high processed food in schools.
Eating unhealthy lunches for years can take a seriously negative toll on both mental and physical health. One major risk of unhealthy school lunches is a contribution to obesity and other weight problems in children. According to the Weight-Control Information Network, about a third of kids and adolescents are overweight or obese. Effects of poor nutrition from school lunches go beyond weight gain. Children who eat too much fat, sugar, sodium or processed food and too few vitamins and minerals are likely to develop a higher risk over time for several chronic health problems. These can include diabetes, kidney stones, bone loss, cancer and heart disease.
Proper nutrition is also tied to better academic performance, so kids who eat unhealthy lunches are likely to score lower on tests and have a harder time with schoolwork. I believe we can attest to this effect, especially in lower income communities. There are also long-term effects as well. According to a 2012 article written by registered dietitian Timi Gustafson, not getting enough essential nutrients at meals may lower kids’ IQ scores, memory capacities, fine motor skills, social skills and languages skills into early adulthood and beyond.
With so much data surrounding this topic, I am amazed that we have not found a way to help communities. I would encourage people to help their communities by taking small steps to fight childhood hunger. As parents, grandparents and members of the community we can help with food drives or taking the time to teach our kids food nutrition. I believe we should also incorporate classes on nutrition into our schools and make it a part of their everyday lives. Not something that is mentioned occasionally.
With the help of Michelle Obama, Congress passed the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Ac in 2010. This legislation strengthened nutritional guidelines, more fruits, veggies and whole grains; less sodium and saturated fats for all food sold in schools and boosted federal funding for schools that met the new standards. This is but a small step in the right direction, but more is still needed. We should help our communities to plant their own vegetables and fruits. This can help our kids to see how fresh fruits and vegetables are grown. From this we can show them how to use fresh fruits and vegetables for nutrition and health.