With the new school year, parents’ attention is turning to school lunches. Traditionally, USDA had used the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for surplus meat and dairy commodities. Children consumed animal fat and sugary drinks, to the point where one-third have became overweight or obese. Their early dietary flaws became lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
In recent years, several state legislatures asked their schools to offer daily vegetarian options and 64% of U.S. school districts now do. Moreover, hundreds of schools and school districts, including Baltimore, Buffalo, Detroit, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami-Dade, Oakland, Philadelphia and San Diego have implemented “Meatless Mondays.” A New York City school went all vegetarian last year.
Current USDA school lunch guidelines, mandated by the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, require doubling the servings of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less sodium and fat and meat-free breakfast. The challenge is to get students to eat the healthier foods.
Parents should work with school cafeteria managers to encourage consumption of healthy foods. Initiatives could include student recipe or poster contests, student garden, and/or “Meatless Mondays.” Detailed guidance is available at www.schoolnutrition.org/schoolmeals, www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, www.pcrm.org/health/healthy-school-lunches, and www.vrg.org/family.