Parents have been railing against nutritional deficits in school lunches and inadequate gym programs for awhile, but with nutritional guidelines being met and a moratorium on spending halting any progress, it was beginning to look like an unhealthy situation for our nation’s kids was never going to change. Unfortunately, parents with limited finances often count on the school’s lunch program to feed their child at least one nutritious and filling meal a day at an affordable cost and their only real recourse is to spend more time and money (that they don’t have) to create meals on their own. But it looks like the program is finally changing, thanks in large part to First Lady Michelle Obama’s push to make America’s children healthy (and the attendant surge in national interest).
The food pyramid seems a likely place to start. The old-school diagram suggested ample servings of “breads”, “meats”, “dairy”, and “fruits and vegetables”. The pyramid of today integrates a healthy diet high in whole grains, fruits, veggies and lean protein like fish and beans (and low in meats and dairy with a negligible amount of fats and sugars) with daily exercise to ensure that our bodies are not only full of healthier fuels, but that they move the way they were meant to, with strength and flexibility (and without pain or extra pounds). This means that kids are urged not only to eat right, but to indulge in activities like sports. To find out more about healthy eating for your kids, Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaigns, or the standards for healthy lunches in schools, check out the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) food pyramid website.
You can do a lot for your kids at home, from creating a healthy diet to encouraging beneficial athletic activities, but you have very little control over what goes on once they’re in school (if you even have the first notion). So who is controlling your child’s health and nutrition when they leave the house every morning? You may think it is the school board, or the government, but the truth is a bit more shocking and insidious. In fact, it seems to be the lobbyists for food companies that control what your child eats. That is unfortunate for a couple of reasons. First of all, they have a bottom line. Certainly they must meet nutritional guidelines (which might be a far cry from your own standards), but they probably only see your child as a number that lines their deep pockets, rather than a growing person in need of vital nutrients. Face it, they have their own best interest at heart. Luckily, more visibility and an outcry for stricter standards and accountability is starting to swing the pendulum of legislation (the men and women of are Congress are, after all, beholden to their constituents). So if you see a problem, shout it out. It’s the only way to affect change.
And while many parents count on the school system to feed and nurture their child in both body and mind, you can still do your part. Teach your kids about the benefits of eating the right foods and exercising so they can make the right choices when faced with a salad and sandwich on the one hand or a slice of pizza and pudding on the other. Don’t phone it in by allowing the one-eyed nanny to rot their brains while you cook up yet another can of Chef Boyardee. Your children are ultimately your responsibility, and while the schools may share that burden, the onus is on you to keep them healthy and happy.