With the new school year just around the corner, parents' attention is turning to school clothes, supplies, and lunches. Yes, school lunches.
Traditionally, USDA had used the National School Lunch Program as a dumping ground for surplus meat and dairy commodities. Not surprisingly, its own surveys indicate that children consume excessive amounts of animal fat and sugary drinks, to the point where one-third have become overweight or obese. Their early dietary flaws become lifelong addictions, raising their risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke.
Gradually, the tide is turning. The new USDA school lunch guidelines, mandated by President Obama's Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act, require doubling the servings of fruits and vegetables, more whole grains, less sodium and fat, and no meat for breakfast. Still, food lobbyists have prevailed on congress to count pizza and french fries as vegetables, and fatty mystery meats and sugary dairy drinks abound.
Parents and students should consider healthy school lunch as a work in progress and insist on healthful plant-based school meals, snacks, and vending machine items. Guidance is available at www.fns.usda.gov/cnd, www.healthyschoollunches.org, and www.vrg.org/family.