Guest: Curbing childhood obesity starts with school lunches
As school starts, let’s reverse childhood obesity trends by focusing on school lunches, writes guest columnist Marilyn McKenna.
Special to The Times
A RECENT federal report states that obesity rates in children have declined in some states and among some socioeconomic segments of the population.
The improvement is modest — no state had a drop of more than 1 percentage point — but it got me thinking that we’re not teaching our kids proper nutrition by what we’re feeding them every day.
School is about to start and we’re all in panic mode as we scramble to pick up school supplies and new sneakers. As we restart the daily routine of planning school lunches, we have an opportunity to re-evaluate what’s in those lunches.
Notwithstanding that slight improvement reported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, since 1980 the number of obese 2- to 5-year-olds has doubled, nearly tripled for 6- to 11-year-olds, and more than tripled for 12- to 19-year-olds. We could see our children’s generation grow up to be sicker and die younger than our own.
That’s not the legacy parents want to leave.
Whether you’re packing lunches from home or the kids are buying them at school, those food choices matter. We should aim to make the most of them.
Schools face the same conundrum that parents packing lunches at home face every day: How do you entice kids to eat healthier to get the critical vitamins and nutrients their bodies need, while not turning them off by abandoning all of their favorite foods?
This being the 21st century, I doubt there’s any possibility that those so-called kid-friendly foods — I’m talking about squeezable yogurt tubes, dinosaur-shaped chicken nuggets, neon-orange macaroni and cheese — are going away, even if schools stopped serving them altogether. So many of these foods are high in calories, fat and additives that it’s worth the effort to minimize their intake at school and at home.
School lunches reflect the food culture we’ve created in our broader society, yet surely we can do better than reheated frozen food that may fill kids’ stomachs but does nothing to teach them proper nutrition.
Rather than passing along a legacy of pizza and chicken nuggets to our kids, let’s introduce them to the abundance of healthy foods that support long-term health and wellness.
Every meal, whether provided at school through a lunch program or packed in a brown paper bag from home, is an opportunity to teach children that healthy eating really matters.
We must teach kids that food can be delicious and nutritious at the same time. We should show them what real food looks like, how you shop for it and prepare it. At the end of the day, as often as possible, we should sit down with our children to model and reinforce healthy eating habits.
We have gone astray in our abundant society. Overfeeding and undernourishing our children is a travesty. Revamping school lunches is part of the solution to childhood obesity and improving children’s overall health and wellness.
Community-based organizations, such as the YMCA, the Boys & Girls Clubs and even food banks can provide educational outreach to parents who need help learning how to shop for and prepare healthy, family-friendly foods.
Parents can get involved by contacting school boards and advocating for healthier school-lunch options.
Local businesses can lend a hand by sponsoring wellness programs and neighborhood events that encourage active lifestyles. Parents.com and LetsMove.gov are both useful places for parents to look for recipes and family fitness ideas.
School lunches are just the tip of the food iceberg for the typical American child. But let’s make those lunches ground zero for improving kids’ nutrition and show them how important it is to eat like it matters.
Information in this article, originally published at 4:37 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2013, was corrected at 5:47 p.m. on Aug. 13, 2013. A previous version of this story incorrectly referenced a website as LetsMove.org. The website is LetsMove.gov.