Studies have shown that inadequate nutrition in the meals served at school has a negative effect upon students’ ability to focus and maintain attention, their level of achievement on tests, and overall behavior in the classroom. In recent years, progress has been made toward improving the quality of cafeteria food to a level consistent with accepted dietary guidelines, but it’s important that parents remain vigilant to ensure that the standards established at both legal and national levels remain high.
Researchers quoted in an MSNBC article entitled “Secondary Schools Serve Unhealthy Foods” found a significant difference between the low nutrition foods available to middle and high school students and the much healthier options served at the elementary school level. One reason is thought to be the number of vending machines to which the older students have access. Studies show that 91 per cent of such machines dispense food that meets the definition of “unhealthy”. The MSNBC report also faults the a la carte option found in many school cafeterias. Nearly 80 per cent of those foods which students could choose for themselves lacked the nutritional elements required for health and wellness in children.
Are Nutritional Guidelines Being Followed?
Regulations do mandate that certain standards be met in cafeteria food service, so students do have the option to make healthier choices. But public school surveys in Maryland found processed meats were included in school breakfast and lunch menus 40 per cent of the time. Because such less nutritious foods are provided to students, both they and their parents need to understand the importance of recognizing and avoiding them. As one nurse pointed out, “If we don’t put anything but healthy food [on the menu] and the children have no other options, they will eat healthy food. Putting healthy food next to junk food doesn’t solve the problem.”
How Can I Make A Difference?
In recent years, schools have taken steps to ban such unhealthy items as trans-fats and sugary sodas, thanks to a combination of parental protest and community and staff support. At Mothers of Health, we published The Adventures of Veggieman / Food Fight, a fun story for kids that parents can use to teach their children how to make the right food choices for their ideal health and wellness. There’s a lot more information at our web site veggieman.com