Proper Nutrition in Schools: This Should Be Encouraged
Iron, vitamin a, calcium, protein, and riboflavin; all a part of the essential nutrients that are best delivered to the body through a hearty, thoughtfully portioned meal. Imagine the ideal lunch: you could pair the one-two punch of leafy green vegetables with some all-American beef for protein and appropriate fat content, and then throw in some 2% chocolate milk for dessert. I bet you wish you had access to well-balanced and nutritious meals everyday when you were in primary schooling. Unfortunately, many schools today, as far as public school systems are concerned, are lacking in proper nutritional content and education. According to School Meals: A Nutritional and Environmental Perspective, published by The John Hopkins University Press, “Currently, school meals have high amounts of saturated fat, cholesterol, sodium, and calories, and include limited amounts of whole grains and fresh fruits and vegetables. These meals could do more to limit and reverse the current childhood obesity epidemic.”
In my experience, the Rowan County school system of Morehead, KY provided me with twelve years of institutionally accepted mediocrity on a plate. I’ve seen it all: chili powder that came in paint cans, frozen main courses that negated the necessity of those large stoves in the back of the kitchen (or were they large microwaves? They never let us see them cooking.), and milk that consistently stayed either a day before or a day after its expiration date. Attempted humor aside, anecdotal evidence (being all of my peers from elementary through high school) suggests that kids generally dislike the quality of school meals, at least when compared to home cooked meals. It got especially worse in the latter half of high school. After Budget cuts, food got starchier, more covered in flour (to compensate for lack of meat), and processed to the point of inedibility. They even eliminated the alternative food option of a big salad, but kept the big honey buns on the snack bar… because what’s an attentive student without their 600 calories of sugar and carbs?
In Jaime Oliver’s prize speech at the 2010 Technology, Entertainment, and Design (TED) conference, he stated, “Nobody in the [school] system is knowledgeable on food, they’re accountants. With tight budgets… all they can do, is buy cheaper shit. The reality is the food that your kids get every day is fast-food, it’s highly processed. There’s not enough fresh food in there at all… French fries are considered vegetables.” Among his many criticisms, Mr. Oliver blamed the health education at schools, referring to an elementary school visit where he showed a classroom of children a wide array of vegetables. To his dismay, the children couldn’t name any of the vegetables correctly… even the simple ones, like potatoes. He also criticized the schools for not teaching children to cook and about where food they eat comes from. These are all valid arguments, as our society holds the school systems responsible for teaching our children so much that was previously taught from within the family that schools can’t meet all of the demands. In the standard curriculum, the science of biology is held as mandatory, while nutrition is an elective course. We yearn to learn so much about the Earth and space, while choosing to remain willfully ignorant about how our own bodies function.
Not only should schools have healthier meals, but as with any community, parents should be involved in their kids’ lives as well. A study from professors at the University of Surrey concludes that, “Parents occupy a key position in their children’s food environment, but to exploit this to the advantage of future diet and health improvements, it is necessary to ensure that our interventions recognize and act on existing levels of motivation and understanding, with respect to behavior change.” Parenting is the world’s oldest profession, and parents are a child’s first teachers. For a parent to hand their “work in progress” to a government-funded institution, without a care in the world as to how their minds are altered by the new environment, is just plain irresponsible.
Healthy meals and better nutrition awareness in schools is merely a common sense approach and is sure to have its disadvantages. Food budgets are often the first to be cut as a school receives less government funding. Higher quality, more health conscious food for children would surely be an extra financial burden on the school system, which just paid for new chairs in the classrooms and a raise to the Superintendent’s salary. And with children’s attention shifted towards nutrition for a change, less time might be paid towards learning in a classroom setting about minute historical details that will be forgotten within weeks. So far the school system has been failing us all, by not letting us know how inadequate the food we eat at lunchtime is.
Schools must provide healthier meals and an emphasis on nutrition education, so that America can reverse the physical damage that has gone on decades. Obesity is the leading cause of preventable death, with several deadly illnesses that kill thousands every year. Millions of cases of heart disease, stroke, diabetes, and several cancers could be prevented if schools chose to take action and arm children with the proper nutritional education that should be an entitlement in this country. At the rate the national collective health is deteriorating, future generations of children could be 300 pounds, with hypertension, by their teen years, and be well on the road to an early grave. With all of the scientific research and information we have at our disposal, to let another generation of children be ignorant as to how food interacts with their bodies would be child abuse.
Demas, A, D Kindermann, and D Pimentel. “School Meals: a Nutritional and Environmental Perspective.” Perspectives in Biology and Medicine. 53.2 (2010): 249-256. Print.
Olliver, Jaime. “Jamie Oliver’s TED Prize wish: Teach every child about food”. 2010 Technology, Entertainment, and Design Conference. TED.com. Video.
Hart, KH, A Herriot, JA Bishop, and H Truby. “Promoting Healthy Diet and Exercise Patterns Amongst Primary School Children: a Qualitative Investigation of Parental Perspectives.” Journal of Human Nutrition and Dietetics : the Official Journal of the British Dietetic Association. 16.2 (2003): 89-96. Print.