School lunches have been called many things, when my kids were young GROSS was the phrase of choice. However, MSNBC reported this week that a group of retired military officers are giving the school lunch a new label: National Security Threat. That's not a reference to the mystery meat served up in the cafeteria line either. The retired officers are saying that school lunches have helped make the nation's young people so fat that fewer of them can meet the military's physical fitness standards.
Now whether you are pro military or against, those are some frightening statistics. The report MSNBC is referring to goes further to say, “more than 9 million young adults, or 27 percent of all Americans ages 17 to 24, are too overweight to join the military. Now, the officers are advocating for passage of a wide-ranging nutrition bill that aims to make the nation's school lunches healthier.”
Add to that a study conducted by the CDC that found that 9 out of 10 school kids are not meeting the suggested daily allowance of fresh fruits and vegetables in their diet. Type 2 Diabetes and obesity are nearing epidemic proportions in our schools.
First of all, our responsibility not only as parents, but as members of the community, is to help kids make healthy choices. Anyone who has ever been around a child, tween, or teen should know better than to expect them to make the right decisions about health if they don’t have the education to do so, and especially if they don’t have healthy options to choose from. While the ultimate responsibility for that lies with the parent, there are changes that can and should be made in the schools, because bottom line, for many low-income children throughout the country, the school lunch program is a vital source of their overall nutrition.
Think about it though, it’s difficult for a child to turn down the hamburger and fries, chicken nuggets or greasy pizza from the cafeteria if the only other alternative is wilted salad that no one eats and has been sitting around for two days. And while many government agencies and school districts are contemplating change, and even the Obama administration is working to expel junk food from the nation’s schools, what can we as parents and community members do to either help that process along, or get something started?
Well, one great example would be in Nashville, where a new wellness program established by Metro public schools in December now has an enforcer: parents. Organized by the Healthy School Food Team, a grassroots group of parents promoting wellness initiatives in Nashville, gathered at the Farmer’s Market Thursday morning to discuss healthier food options in the city’s public school cafeterias. In addition to working to promote healthy lifestyle and eating habits in the schools, the group’s long-term vision includes food coming from local and regional farmers, and offering a variety of fresh fruit and produce instead of Fritos and the stuff that’s offered currently.
Not only are changes starting to come in thanks to the grassroots efforts of parents and educators, there is also some star power behind this push as Jamie Oliver is using fresh fruit and vegetables to try to win the hearts, or at least the fatty arteries, of a West Virginia city in his show Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, and if you haven’t seen the show, I can’t recommend it highly enough. Rachael Ray is also working to reform school lunch, and Paula Deen, queen of Southern fried goodness, recently taught an auditorium of kids how to cook and eat healthy.
Hopefully these reports, and if nothing else this star-power, will help to further compel parents to find ways to make changes in their communities and schools. Because changes need to happen, they need to happen at home, and they need to happen at school, and truthfully, they can’t happen soon enough.