A body of evidence attests to the value of a nutritious, balanced school lunch. Yet the issue is changing how school lunches are currently served. Fast food options, fries and burgers are a common choice for the majority of children and replacing them with broccoli or carrot sticks may be problematic. It seems, though, that toning down the restrictions just might be the right course towards saving face.
Buying vegetables, fruit and whole grains is quite expensive. And when the requirements demand a high proportion of these items, it becomes rather difficult to offer children school meals at good prices. Every time the requirements went up, so did the prices.
It has gotten to the point where some children can only afford school meals one or two days a week. The rest of the days, they find themselves obligated to bring a lunch from home, which most of the time does not meet the government’s requirements.
This situation is rather frequent and it actually creates many more problems along the way. For instance, if the children cannot afford to buy what the school cafeteria has to offer, then it is left with quite some food at the end of the day. This food entirely constitutes loss, because schools are obligated to dispose of it that same day.
This is why the strict nutritional requirements for sodium content, fruit, vegetable and whole grain content has backfired in its purpose. If children cannot afford it any more, then children do not eat it and instead turn back to the fast food options, which are the exact opposite of school requirements, but have the advantage of being affordable.
“These program can’t help anyone if they’re not working,” said chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Senator Pat Roberts.
He sees the solution in keeping what has proven successful in the past and fixing what is broken at the moment, by allowing the schools more flexibility in their nutritional requirements. This would allow them to offer students healthy meals at prices that can afford.
And while, the updated version will not be as healthy as the present one, by ensuring that a child will eat it five days a week instead of one or two days, it will ultimately be much better for the student’s health.
In a hearing held on Thursday, the childhood nutrition programs were reevaluated by a committee, that took into account a wider range of opinions like those of medical specialists and education and government officials.
They have tried to convince the committee that if the requirements would be toned down, the effects would be highly enhanced in comparison to their current state.
For instance, at the moment the requirements for whole grain in school meals are of 100 percent. By bringing them down to 50 percent, the school and the students alike would have more money for good food.
As for the sodium requirements, they are set at Target 1 levels currently but they would have to go further down to follow the current of nutritional standards.
By lowering them even more, a lot of products that naturally contain sodium, such as cheese or meat would have to be served in even smaller quantities than they are in served today. This has the disadvantage of making food seem unappealing to children.
The entire plan of making the nutritional requirements feasible again is incorporated in the Healthy School Meals Flexibility Act. Hopefully the committee will see that it is necessary for it to be implemented in order to achieve past victory again in the success of school lunches.
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