School Lunch and Obesity: Part 2

Over the weekend I shared my thoughts on the school lunch issue. For those that may not know what I’m referring to, the USDA has put into place guidelines that school must follow in order to qualify for funding through the free and reduced-price meals program. Those guidelines include:

So, where is my problem? My first response was an emotional one. I don’t believe some of the guidelines are fair and they definitely don’t take into consideration the different needs and requirements for different students. We don’t expect our children to all learn the same, so why do we expect them to eat the same?

First of all, let’s look at the meat/meat alternative issue. I have yet to meet anyone that has ever dealt with nutrition/weight loss issues that has not learned the importance of protein in your diet. According to dietary guidelines and a discussion with a dietician, my 105-pound, 5′ 1″ 8-year-old needs about 58 grams of protein per day. To clarify, “From the ages of 4 to 6, he needs 0.5 g per lb., decreasing to 0.45 g per pound between 7 and 14 years of age. Depending on his weight and daily calorie intake during these years, he may need to consume between 7 and 15 percent of his total calories as protein.” Read more: http://www.livestrong.com/article/519852-what-percentage-of-protein-do-children-need-each-day/#ixzz26vHPnKoF

He will receive roughly 14 grams through the school. (There are approximately 7 grams of protein per ounce of meat, and the school lunch will serve 1.5-2 oz.) That’s a lot to make up in the course of his meals at home.

And that’s not the only catch with protein. Animal protein and plant-based protein are two different things. For the essential amino acids, animal protein is a “complete” protein, meaning that it provides all that you need. Plant-based protein is “incomplete”, needing two to make one complete protein. It’s not a difference in how the body breaks it down, just how it’s used. If you aren’t using animal proteins, you just need more to get your essential amino acids. (Sound complicated? It is. Which is why I can’t even begin to understand why we would try to make this a one-size-fits-all type of diet. Our bodies don’t work that way.)

Let’s look at the calorie requirements. According to Mayo Clinic (and we work closely with a team of dietitians from Mayo through George’s disorder), children Scooter’s age require 1,200 to 2,000 calories per day, depending on growth and activity level. I would guess that would be plenty sufficient for EJ, since he’s 5 and on the smaller side of the scale. But it won’t touch Scooter’s needs. Not even close.

The requirements for increased vegetable choices, lower sodium intake, etc. Yay! I’m all for those types of changes. Let’s offer our children more, expand their palates, show them how great a well-balanced meal can be! Yes, yes and yes! I will be one of the biggest supporters of these types of changes…but the rest, well, the rest leaves me hungry for more information. And leaves my children just plain hungry.

There are a few comments that were left that I would like to respond to here. The first is the remark that I have the option to pack a lunch for my child, if I feel that the school lunch is inadequate in any way. And although that is true, I shouldn’t have to resort to those types of measures daily, just so that my child is fed enough to make it through the day.

But let’s say that I DID pack my son’s lunch each day. How does that make things better for the child that doesn’t have a parent at home to pack a lunch, or the funds to purchase an extra serving. Shouldn’t we be protecting those that cannot protect themselves? Isn’t that the purpose of living in this country that we call home? Should I just sit back and let things take its course because I’m fortunate enough to be able to provide whatever meal my children request at school? Is that the right attitude?

Second of all, a comment was made about children needing to pick up the proper eating habits at a young age, so those habits can continue on into adulthood. And I agree 100%. Expand our children’s minds, give them more options, require that fruits/vegetables and other foods are consumed before offering seconds. I’m all for any/all of those types of changes. Serve my child beets, different types of greens, oranges, etc. Please!

I grew up in a house where food was not always plentiful. There wasn’t an open-cupboard policy and we sometimes relied on other means to put food on the table, whether it be hunting and butchering our own, garden staples, foodstamps or commodities. My mother canned all sorts of things, including sausage and chicken. We would butcher as many as 500 chickens in the fall, partly to fill our pantry and partly to sell to others. (It’s part of the reason that I still, to this day, cannot handle raw chicken. Seriously.)

My children do not know what it’s like to not have the option of more food. And I think that it helps in the long run. They do not stuff themselves because they don’t know when the next good meal will be. They know that when they are hungry they can eat, and so they eat a reasonable amount and they eat sensibly. But I know they are the exception, not the rule.

Are there improvements I can make when it comes to meals and choices for my children? Certainly. And I’m working on them regularly. Yet having my children come home hungry enough that they are willing to grab whatever is nearest and stuff themselves with it? Well, that doesn’t seem like the right lesson to teach. I’m just grateful that I’m here to intervene.

But what about those that aren’t so fortunate?

If you check out my first blog post in this series, the bottom has links from people that have weighed in on this issue. It’s important, not just for our children, but for their futures as well. Any other comments/questions? I will continue to write about/address these issues as we work through these changes as a family. I’d love to hear your take.

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5 thoughts on “School Lunch and Obesity: Part 2

  1. Pingback: Does Your Child Fit the ‘One Size Fits All’ Lunch Program? | chrischinn

  2. I sent an email to my congressman. If my 5 and 8yr olds come home ravenous, even with eating a good amount of fruits & veggies, all the other kids must be doing the same thing, too. Our school let out the first week @1pm, and they came home hungry as bears, ready to eat anything in sight. This week, with a full day, God help the teachers when the afternoon hunger frenzy erupts. My kids can be AWFUL when they are hungry, and I haven’t met a parent yet that would disagree with that analogy. Glad I’m not the teacher, ’cause I doubt they will get a whole lot accomplished in the afternoons.

  3. Pingback: Why the fuss about lunch? | Wag'n Tales

  4. Just wanted to say that in some areas (Texas for one), teachers are instructed to (and HAVE) taken away lunches children bring from home if they don’t meet the requirements listed. But worse than that they sometimes DON’T give an alternate lunch or the alternate lunch is far inferior to the home lunch!

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