The Debate on Healthy School Lunch – A Year in Review

12-26-2015.Image1It has been almost three years since the enactment of Nutrition Standards in the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs by the U.S. Department of Agriculture in January 2012. Under this rule, schools are required to increase the availability of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and fat-free or low-fat fluid milk in school meals; reduce the levels of sodium, saturated fat and trans-fat in meals; and meet the nutrition needs of school children within their calorie requirements. How has this rule affected the students across the country? What is the reality of today’s school lunch systems in America? 

Below is a recap of the key arguments and perspectives on this issue published in major news media in 2015.

In “Why Students Hate School Lunches,” by Kate Murphy, published on New York Times on September 26, 2015, the author pointed out that many school meal programs had taken a significant financial hit since the new mandates went into effect. The reason: kids either toss out the healthier meals or opt to brown-bag it because they do not like the taste of the mandated healthier food. To read this article, click here.

In “Boo! School Lunch is Not Scary!” published on U.S. News on October 22, 2015, Chef Ann Cooper rebutted the above view, arguing that healthy lunch standards do not necessarily give rise to less tastier lunches. “A healthy school lunch is a powerful tool to help change eating habits that are literally making our children very sick.” “We should be applauding healthy school food, not reinforcing the message that parents and children should be frightened of it.” To read this article, click here.

12-26-2015.Image2One of the most constructive ideas on this topic came from the article “Why the Healthy School Lunch Program is in Trouble?” published on Washington Post on August 26, 2015. Journalist Ariana Cha cited a research report which found that consumption of fruits and vegetables actually went down 13 percent while waste increased an alarming 56 percent after the mandate took effect. Yet, she believed “the new mandate will eventually get children eating right.” The solution: “guidelines need to be supplemented with other strategies to enrich fruit and vegetable consumption, such as offering fruits and vegetables “with a dip or slicing apples instead of serving them whole.” To read this article,  click here.

Another insightful thought on this topic came from the article “School Food Problems are American Food Problems,” published on Huffington Post on February 26, 2015. Researcher and food educator Sadie Barr pointed out that the problem with today’s school lunch programs is that schools rely on the processed-food industry which provides unhealthy and tasteless lunches. If the USDA would be more flexible in their reimbursement requirements for locally cooked fresh school meals, “it would give school districts around the country more flexibility when it comes to providing both satisfying and healthy options.” To read this article, click here.

The article “As Schools Buy More Local Food, Kids Throw Less Food in the Trash,” published on the web site of National Public Radio on October 21, 2015, echoed the above view. The author cited schools reports indicating that when served with local food, students ate more healthful meals and threw less food in the trash. “It helps to create a connection to food.” “All across the country, you can find school districts doing similar things, for similar reasons.” To read this article, click here.

As elucidated in the above articles, the debate on the healthy school lunch program continues in 2015, with an increasing focus on local solutions. While we see no end to this heated debate, every one of us can make our own school days healthier and happier by asking ourselves: How can I have a healthier school lunch in the upcoming year? What can I do to help my school run a better lunch program?

Happy holidays!

12 thoughts on “The Debate on Healthy School Lunch – A Year in Review

  1. A very interesting read! I think that before educating kids to choose healthy food, we need to educate their parents. Healthy eating habits start at home, because parents are role models for children. If at home we give our children highly-processed fast food and take aways, kids will never go for fruit or vegetables in school, and the healthy options will seem boring and plain. It is such a shame that we choose quantity over quality. Of course, we are not given much help here, as supermarket shelves tempt us with nice deals on junk food, while healthy food is expensive and unaffordable. Not sure if this problem can easily be tackled, unfortunately, which is so sad.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This post really helps me to better understand this important policy issue. I find it very troubling that the school lunch program is set up in ways that encourage the use of processed foods prepared by large companies. It also makes me think about the recent issues at Chipotle’s and their shift to using more centralized kitchens. Though I feel strongly that locally prepared foods using natural ingredients are best, when I’m feeling cynical, I sometimes wonder if there is any hope that schools will ever shift back to the use of local foods prepared in local kitchens.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the comment! Yeah, local fresh supplies will definitely be helpful to healthy and tasty school lunches. Hopefully, more and more school districts will realize this.


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