Good Nutrition in School Can Help to Fight Childhood Obesity
Perhaps you are trying to help your child lose weight, or you feel he or she may be in danger of becoming overweight or unhealthy because of their eating and exercise habits.
If so, it is important that you consider the impact of your child's time at school as you think about what you need to change.
As the U.S. government has studied obesity, many of their agencies have produced reports and established guidelines to help parents and school systems understand how to make important changes.
These guidelines are designed to encourage our children to eat healthy foods and get plenty of exercise.
Across the country, schools are beginning to offer more good food choices, and look at their physical education and extra curricular activities to ensure that they encourage good habits.
Of course your involvement and understanding is important if your child is going to get the right support while she or he is in school during the day.
And, you need to ensure that your child understands the importance of CHOOSING the healthy foods and participating in exercise programs, but the first step is to make sure these choices are AVAILABLE to your child.
Working with medical organizations, the USDA published a 'Prescription for Change', and 'Healthy School Nutrition Environments'.
These reports were meant to be used by schools to improve their nutritional program.
USDA Recommendations for School Nutrition
Here are some of the recommendations included in those reports.
The Serving and Dining Environment
- The Federal, State and local government must provide adequate funding for food and eating environs to support healthy eating.
- Dining space will be adequate, pleasant and socially accommodating, and will accommodate all students and staff scheduled to eat at a certain time of day.
- Serving areas will be sufficient to ensure that every student has access to meals with a minimum of waiting time, so that they have plenty of time to eat before their next class.
- The staff and administration of the school, AND the students and parents will analyze the current environment, working together to create a space that matches the needs of all parties.
Nutritional Concerns Regarding Meals and Foods
- Meals should comply with USDA nutritional standards and guidelines, and students should have plenty of food choices, with new foods introduced to keep the menu interesting and healthy.
- Food preparation and preferences should be varied enough to comply with various tastes and ethnic preferences or religious requirements.
- Additional food and drink offered, over and above meals served, e.g. vending machines and packaged 'snacks', will represent the 5 major food groups in the Food Guide Pyramid.
- Students must have designated lunch periods, long enough for them to get their food and eat at a healthy pace.
- Lunch periods should be as close to the middle of the day as possible and should allow time for socialization and a relaxed eating pace.
- All decisions made by the school system regarding the type, variety and quantity of food and drink to be sold in the school will be based on nutritional goals and sound guidelines, NOT on the profit the school can make.
Nutrition and Health Focused Curriculum
- Kindergarten through Grade 12 classes should include education and information on healthy eating habits and the types of foods a child should eat to stay healthy and help them grow.
Now that you understand the concerns and recommendations of the USDA and the national medical organizations, go to a school board meeting and talk to the board members about what they are doing to comply with these guidelines.
If you don't know what your child's eating environment and food choices are, visit the school and find out. Get involved with the PTA or PTO in your school system and get to work!