Dr. Taz MD, Solutions for Living Healthy Naturally: National School Lunch Week, How committed are we to our children’s health?

This week is National School Lunch Week celebrating the benefits of the National School Lunch Program (NSLP.) The NSLP was established in 1946 and is the largest federally assisted child nutrition program in the United States; it provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day1. This year’s theme is “School lunch- Let’s grow healthy.” This theme is particularly fitting since one year ago the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act was implemented in schools. The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act not only reauthorized the Child Nutrition Act but also represented the first major revision to school meal standards in 15 years2. Among these changes are requirements for more whole grains, fruits and vegetables, less sodium and fat, and an emphasis on appropriate portion sizes.

These changes could not come at a better time. The fight against Childhood Obesity is at an all- time high and people are hungry for healthy options. While school lunches still receive criticism, National School Lunch Week is about celebrating the successes in child nutrition and discussing where more improvements can be made. Recently, school gardens have begun supplying schools with fresh produce, salad bars are replacing vending machines, and fruits and vegetables are offered every day. Advancements like these are how we are going to teach children how to lead healthy lives. Critics of the new changes to NSLP cite instances of children throwing out the fruits and vegetables from lunch and eating junk food from home as evidence of the program’s failure3. On the contrary, I see it as success. To end childhood obesity, teach good nutrition, and take back our country’s health, we have to redefine what food looks and tastes like. We need to make it clear that hotdogs, cheese sauces and other high sodium, high cholesterol, processed-food products are not real food and they certainly are not healthy. If children are choosing to not eat school lunches because they are healthy, at least they know what healthy looks like.

The most important thing to do at this moment is to stay the course. Many cafeterias are losing money because fewer children are buying school lunches and complaints over smaller portion

sizes are commonplace, but these are opportunities for improvement not back-tracking. We cannot expect children to welcome a completely new lunch with open arms, but we can expect them to adapt with time. At first, they will kick and scream for pizza and chocolate milk. If we give in after a few discarded apples, what have we really accomplished? It will take more than a single act and one year to reverse the trend in childhood obesity. It will take time, collaboration on all levels, and most importantly, it will take commitment to the future health of our children.

1.”National School Lunch Week.” Nea.org. National Education Association, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://www.nea.org/tools/lessons/48412.htm>.

2.”Healthy Schools.” Letsmove.gov. Let’s Move, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013.http://www.letsmove.gov/healthy-schools

3.Olson, Kyle. “Federal Report Identifies Problems Created by Mrs. Obama’s ‘healthy’ School Lunch Overhaul.” EAGnews.org. Education Action Group Foundation Inc, n.d. Web. 13 Oct. 2013. <http://eagnews.org/federal-report-identifies-numerous-problems-that-were-created-by-michelle-obamas-healthy-school-lunch-overhaul/>.