August 31, 2012
Submitted by Katie Keaschall, Registered Dietitian, Kewanee Hospital
The start of the school year has sparked some conversation, and in some cases controversy, regarding the new regulations on the National School Lunch Program. While we are hearing a variety of feedback – both positive and negative - from students and parents, it is important to clarify what the program actually entails.
The United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is the regulatory body that standardizes the school lunch program for our country. Over the past 15 years, there have not been any major changes to this federal program. With the rise of childhood obesity, as well as the other extreme of childhood hunger, the need was determined for some sort of change to address this national epidemic. The goal of the improved nutritional standards is to help address these two issues and provide healthier meals for all children attending school.
This summarized list of modifications to the National School Lunch Program includes the following:
As long as these guidelines are followed, the menus that are provided at each of our nation’s schools will vary in regards to budget, food availability, the capacity for specific foods to be prepared, etc. Ultimately, this means menus will differ from school to school. For more detailed, credible information on the National School Lunch Program, please visit www.fns.usda.gov.
“In my professional opinion as a registered dietitian, I understand some hesitation regarding this change,” stated Katie Keaschall, RD, LDN at Kewanee Hospital. “Most of us want our youth to eat healthy and are happy to hear the nutritional standards have been improved. At the same time, some would also agree that children should like the foods offered because some nourishment is better than none.”
This poses an excellent question -- What does “eating healthy” really mean for kids and how can you ensure they are eating healthy? A shortened textbook answer for a child eating healthy would be “meeting their individual nutrient requirements,” as everyone’s body has different needs which depend on many factors. While it is natural for parents to worry that their child(ren) are not consuming the appropriate nutrition, rest assured knowing that most kids attending schools are able to meet their nutritional needs in their own way, especially if balanced “hot meals” are provided by the school and/or balanced “cold meals” are provided by a parent.
The following lists some common themes about kid’s eating behaviors regardless if they are at home or at school:
The USDA and schools across the nation are doing their best to follow the new guidelines and to do their jobs of providing the appropriate nutrition for kids. Ultimately, children will consume what they wish of the foods they are offered, whether this be at home or at school. As adults, we can help them establish a healthy relationship with food.