Posted by Patrick Maness
No one ever claimed feeding kids was easy. Sometimes they want to eat, other times not. What they want and when they want it is anyone’s guess. It’s often the case that the things they want — sugars, starches and fats — are not what’s most healthy for them.
Unfortunately, in an effort to ensure school-aged kids have enough fuel to last them through the day and into any after-school sports or activities, many school-lunch programs across the country have been guilty of stuffing kids with large amounts of the unhealthy food they love.
This works because school-aged children, especially teenagers, have a survivalist's mentality. If you put food in front of them, they'll eat it as if they don’t know where their next meal will come from.
In trying to curb these poor eating habits and combat school-aged obesity, schools have specifically tried to introduce more sensible portions into school lunches.
The problem with portions
What most Americans think of as “normal” portions are, in actuality, anything but normal. Not only are the big gulps and super-sized fries too big, but almost everything we now eat is bigger than it was just a few decades ago. In fact, studies have found a strong correlation between the increase in portion size with the ballooning obesity epidemic in our country.
In an effort to curb this, The National School Lunch Program has instituted new guidelines that make schools limit the amounts of calories, saturated fats and sodium served in school lunches. Many hope these guidelines will foster changes like trading French fries for side salads.
The challenge facing school cafeterias is that the reasonably sized portions recommended by the guidelines are considered by many students and their parents to be, in fact, very small portions. Indeed, students have complained to their schools about the new portion sizes, expressing concern that they will be left feeling hungry.
To many, these new guidelines are rather controversial. Opponents see them as part of an effort by big government to meddle in their lives and restrict what they can and cannot eat.
In response, the USDA tweaked its requirements to allow the serving of more whole grains and lean meats, proving the initiative is flexible and willing to adapt to feedback.
The variety solution
Another way schools are working to ensure students leave the cafeteria feeling satisfied is to offer them a healthy variety of food. In previous blogs, we talked about how schools have tried to balance their menu options. In doing so, they've placed an emphasis on nutritional variety over caloric quantity.
The hope is that students will become accustomed to several reasonable portions of a variety of foods. Instead of the heavy, stuffed feeling they’re used to experiencing after meals, they will become accustomed to a satisfied — and healthier — feeling when they’re done eating.
Read other articles in this series: