Schlageck: No hungry kids
With the advent of the new school year, there’s apprehension some youngsters may be leaving the school cafeteria hungry. This may be in part due to recent changes in this country’s school lunch program.
No question, some of the changes in the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act are good for our school children. These include more fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy products, more whole grains and more water instead of sugary drinks. Also included in the new changes are reductions in saturated fat, trans fats and sodium.
These efforts are well-intentioned. There is a real concern about the growing problem of childhood obesity and diabetes. The problem arises when you try to solve childhood obesity for some and you short-change the more active children, particularly at the higher age groups.
The new guidelines place a ceiling on the amount of proteins and overall calorie content of school lunches. While there have always been minimum requirements for calories, protein and other nutrients, some youngsters may leave the lunchroom hungry.
These new requirements for protein are slightly less than what the U.S. Department of Agriculture recommends in its overall nutritional guidelines. It appears, however, that the real problem is there is not flexibility to provide fewer or greater calories depending on a student’s age, body weight or level of activity. All of these considerations are necessary to determine a youngster’s nutritional needs.
Active, developing youngsters — especially those involved in athletic programs after school — require more calories. If you’ve ever had a daughter or son playing soccer or volleyball or practicing during summer and fall football, you know they burn these calories.
Parents I know, myself included, often pack additional food for their children that include protein, carbs and fruits. In some cases the youngsters complain about being hungry or require more fuel to keep up with their active lifestyles.
Young, developing bodies and minds need a healthy, well-balanced diet. However, every child is different and requires different amounts of fruit, vegetables, dairy products and, yes, protein. This protein should include whole cuts of lean beef, pork and chicken — not processed, already-packaged, prepared food out of a box, but straight from the steer, hog and chicken.
Beanie weenies, chicken nuggets, high-carb mac and cheese or one small slice of pizza with a “one size fits all” portion size designed to curb obesity may not meet the dietary needs of an athlete, an artist, an active 7-year-old or an active farm kid. It certainly doesn’t fully consider the need for adequate, or even elevated, levels of protein necessary to facilitate brain development — that, by the way, is the reason we send our kids to school.
Our goal should be to feed our children while they are in school, but feed them with nutritious meals that will help them grow up to be healthy, well-adjusted adults. It’s time to treat our youngsters as individuals and cater to their unique dietary needs. The USDA has created a one-size-fits-all approach that will not accomplish this.
Your children, grandchildren and mine deserve the best and healthiest foods available. Let’s not send them away from the school cafeteria hungry.
— John Schlageck is a commentator on agriculture and rural Kansas. He was raised on a diversified farm in northwestern Kansas.