You've seen the statistics: about 12.5 million children and adolescents 2 to 19 years old are overweight. Sadly, since 1980, the number of overweight/obese children and adolescents has nearly tripled, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While you may be taking steps at home to improve your child's nutrition, there are new efforts under way to provide healthier breakfasts and lunches at school. Since these meals may account for 30 to 50 percent of a child's daily caloric needs, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is partnering with parents to increase the standards of school meals. Here's what you need to know about these new guidelines and what you can do to encourage your child's healthy eating at school.
What are the new standards?
The new USDA standards, which will be implemented over the next three years, call for more fruits and vegetables, whole-grain rich breads and fat-free white milk. They also support increasing the number of trans-fat-free meals and decreasing the amount of salt in school breakfasts and lunches. The new guidelines have set a maximum number of calories for each meal. This will help reduce the overall calories in school meals.
Are there still unhealthy items in the cafeteria? Yes. The USDA will still count pizza as a vegetable and will allow cafeterias to serve french fries two times a week. Also, many cafeterias still offer side items such as chips and brownies, so children may still purchase these items and not eat all of the healthy options that are part of their meal. In addition, school parties will likely still offer items such as pizza and soda.
Some schools are trying to turn off vending machines during lunch hours and breaks, as well as decrease the number of sugar-sweetened products on school property.
What can you do to support these new standards?
The Riley Hospital for Children POWER (Pediatric OverWeight Education and Research) program at Indiana University Health has several recommendations:
- Discourage the purchase of additional unhealthy side items at school.
- Serve water and low-fat white milk at home. Encourage your child to drink these at school as well.
- Continue healthy ways at home by limiting fast-food meals and convenience foods, and using planned menus.
What if my child is overweight now?
The POWER program can help your child lead a healthier life. POWER is a six-month weight management and fitness enhancing program based on the philosophy that weight loss is best achieved through a positive youth development approach. Ask your healthcare professional about a referral.