Back-to-school-Healthy-meals-healthy-kids

Back to school: Healthy meals, healthy kids

Nutrition Bites
Back to school: Healthy meals, healthy kids
Lauren Futrell Dunaway, MPH, RD, LDN
August 26, 2010

With kids heading back to school this fall, it's important to stop and take a look at what schools are serving children for breakfast and lunch. Many children in New Orleans spend on average eight hours at school, consuming most of their calories each day in the cafeteria.

Why is focusing on school meals important? In Louisiana, over 30 percent of children are overweight or obese with a major culprit being poor eating habits-low fruit and vegetable consumption and high intake of calorie-rich, nutrient-poor foods. Childhood obesity can lead to serious health problems in adulthood, including heart disease, diabetes and stroke. School meals are a prime intervention opportunity to improve nutrition and decrease childhood obesity.

A movement to change school meals is happening both nationally and locally. At the federal level, the Child Nutrition Act that supports school meals is currently up for renewal in Congress, and it includes landmark changes such as increased federal reimbursements, higher nutritional standards and a simpler application process to participate in the National School Lunch Program. Additionally, the School Nutrition Association just launched a new website, Tray Talk, which not only highlights school nutrition success stories, but it also acts as a resource for schools wanting to improve their school meal offerings.

Many schools in New Orleans have embraced school meal reform. Some examples of reform efforts include partnering with local restaurants to develop delicious, nutritious meals; planting school gardens that teach nutrition education and provide fresh produce; demanding improved nutritional standards from food service providers; and actively seeking to bring healthier food service providers to New Orleans.

There are also ways that individuals and communities can get involved with making school meals healthier for our kids.

* As parents, speak out for school meal reform at school meetings, and tell policy makers that you support the school food recommendations that will be released in the FPAC report in September. * School leaders have an opportunity to set the nutrition standards for their school, to hold food service providers accountable for what they are serving students, and to make better nutrition in their schools a priority. * Local leaders and policy makers are also key stakeholders in improving school meals. They can advocate for better nutrition in schools by supporting and promoting the FPAC recommendations.

Over 80 percent of children in Orleans Parish are eligible for free or reduced-price lunches. School meal reform is essential to ensure children are served fresh, nutritious foods in school and begin learning healthy eating habits at a young age.

Click here to sign up for “Fitting New Orleans.”

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