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Chuck, with kids going back to school, what do you recommend for school meals – especially in light of schools offering inferior nutritious alternatives – buy or bring? And how do you get your kids to eat right when they’re away from you and surrounded by so much junk food? – Jane F. in Chicago
A few months ago, as most began their summer, fourth-grader Zachary Maxwell was getting loads of press for his movie, “Yuck: A 4th Grader’s Short Documentary About School Lunch.”
The movie’s official website explains that in the fall of 2011, he started asking his parents whether he could bring his own lunch to school. They told him to continue to eat the school’s hot lunches because online menus, as well as the New York City Department of Education’s website, assured parents that the meals were nutritious and delicious. Zachary knew otherwise and sought to convince his parents of the same.
Over the next six months, Zachary used his family’s small, high-definition camera to covertly record what really was being served at his school’s cafeteria. The result was an award-winning exposé, “Yuck,” which continues to be played in a host of venues around the U.S. and Canada. You can watch the 20-minute documentary at YuckMovie.com.
Zachary is not alone in his skepticism about the nutritious value of school meals and snacks.
Another award-winning movie, simply titled “Lunch,” and its official website give some staggering statistics:
- The Child Nutrition Act provides breakfasts and lunches to 31 million students at the cost of $12 billion annually.
- Despite the fact that government-subsidized lunches are supposed to stay within certain fat, caloric and nutritional standards, 20 percent of schools also sell fast food, such as McDonald’s burgers and french fries and Pizza Hut and Little Caesars pizza.
- Eighty percent of schools do not meet the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s standards for fat content in foods.
- U.S. elementary school lunches average 821 calories each.
- Forty-three percent of U.S. elementary schools, 74 percent of middle schools and nearly all high schools have soda vending machines on campus.
- Sixteen percent of 6- to 19-year-olds (more than 9 million) are overweight or obese – a percentage that has tripled since 1980, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
- More than 70 percent of obese adolescents will keep their obesity into adulthood.
- Thirty percent of boys and 40 percent of girls born in the U.S. in 2000 have a lifetime risk of being diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes.
What’s especially disturbing is that the public school system is the place where America’s children spend a good majority of their week and in which their parents hope they are developing healthy educational, physical, social and psychological patterns for life.
That’s the bad news.
Here’s the good news.
First, thanks to concerned parents, citizens and nutritional watchdog groups across the country, some nutritional aspects about school meals have improved.
Despite the fact that I don’t believe government is our answer to health and nutrition issues, the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act of 2010 has enacted new countrywide dietary regulations on public schools. In June 2013, the feds extended even stricter guidelines with snack foods, too.
According to NBC News in 2012, “Under the new regulations, schools will be required to offer fruits and vegetables every day, increase the amount of whole-grain foods and reduce the sodium and fats in the foods served. Schools will also be required to offer only fat-free or low-fat milk. In addition, the menus will pay attention to portion sizes to make sure children receive calories appropriate to their age, according to Kevin Concannon, USDA under secretary for food, nutrition and consumer services.”
Sounds good, right? The question is: Is it working?
The answer to that is: Yes and no.
The problem is that new government regulations offer alternatives but don’t remove most bad ones. As NBC News reported, “the new menus won’t entirely eliminate favorite food choices among kids, like pizza and french fries, but they will provide alternatives. For example, instead of cheese pizza, students will receive whole wheat cheese pizza. Rather than tater tots, students will get baked sweet potato fries.”
Despite what government has done or can do, however, the real answers to our kids’ health issues lie with us as parents and our ability to empower them to live right, including to eat right.
Nothing replaces parental involvement with children and local schools and fighting to increase the nutritional standards in them. Whether individually, on a school board or in a parent-teacher council, speak up and participate in the decision-making processes of your public schools, including the dietary ones.
Second to none is parents’ ability to help and empower a child by their model, mentoring and motivating.
The fact is, according to a new report by Time magazine, more and more schools are dropping out of the government-backed food programs because the costs for healthy foods are driving kids to turn to options – such as home lunches or even not eating – other than those nutritious alternatives.
As the adage goes, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink, right?
Then again, maybe it’s just the wrong trainers doing the leading.
From my experience owning my Texas ranch, if a horse is thirsty – even if it’s stubborn – it will go to the trough eventually.
Next week, I will show how some local schools are solving the dietary problems in students. I also will look at how health patterns in kids who bring their lunches from home compare with those who buy them at school. Lastly, I will give parents the best tips from experts about steps they can take to help motivate their kids to make better nutritional choices.
Write to Chuck Norris with your questions about health and fitness. Follow Chuck Norris through his official social media sites, on Twitter @chucknorris and Facebook’s “Official Chuck Norris Page.” He blogs at ChuckNorrisNews.blogspot.com.