School lunches get a 21st-century makeover

For instance, a recent New York Times article reports that as a result of trying to re-engineer school lunch foods to make them healthier for students, New York City Schools actually dropped the calories below what the USDA had as a minimum for students.

In replacing pork bacon strips with turkey, for example, officials cut 64 calories from one serving but failed to add those calories back to the lunch with a healthy side or alternative.

“Our mentality is to feed food to children, not nutrients to astronauts,” said Eric S. Goldstein, the chief executive for school support services for the New York City Education Department.

According to the New York Times, the menu changes were part of a city-wide “campaign against childhood obesity and also included eliminating soda from all school vending machines, supplanting canned vegetables with fresh and frozen ones,” and many more changes.

Yet, some parents and nutrition advocates worry that calorie decreases will negatively affect students who don’t get enough to eat at home.

Nutrition experts quoted in the article said the argument boils down to better calories versus more calories.

New York City Schools also recently had to sever ties with a professional chefs program, called Wellness in the School (WITS), that aimed to provide fresher, healthier food in public schools. According to the city’s education department, the program’s approach does not comply with the requirements of the new guidelines, raising the questions: What, exactly, constitutes good, healthy food for students—and is freshly-prepared food better, or nutrient-rich food?

Another issue schools and parents are facing is student reaction to the updated guidelines. After all, getting kids to eat their vegetables isn’t always easy.

In many parents’ and administrators’ eyes, it will take more than a menu change to get kids to eat healthy; it will require a reinvention of childhood nutrition education.

Moving forward: Technology and nutrition education

Though defining what constitutes the best lunch for students is still under debate, the fact remains that if public schools want to continue receiving federal funding for lunch programs, they’ll have to comply with the updated guidelines … and get kids to eat their lunch.

“We don’t want healthy trash cans,” said Kern Halls, a former Disney World restaurant manager who now works in school nutrition for the Orange County Public Schools in Florida. “We want kids who are eating this stuff.”

Meris Stansbury

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