Taking a closer look at nutrition in schools’ lunches

January 29, 2013

By Lee Xie

Lee Xie Skyline High School

Lee Xie
Skyline High School

This month, we are choosing to start off the year with a bang by reporting on an issue that is relevant and important to our audience: school lunches.

We all know that the Issaquah School District is innovative and dedicated when it comes to education, but how do our schools fare when it comes to feeding our students in a nonintellectual way? Our journalists explore the issue and how lunches shape up at Skyline, Issaquah, Liberty and private Eastside Catholic high schools.

In the grand scheme of things, school lunches in America have been a hotly debated topic in the past few years. Last January, the U.S. Department of Agriculture issued new guidelines that stated that school meals would have to offer fruits and vegetables to students every day. The meals would also have to reduce sodium, saturated fat and trans fat levels. The new standards called for schools to offer more whole grains, as well as more fat-free or low-fat milk options.

But are these improved rules, coupled with calorie minimums and maximums, enough to help curb the childhood obesity epidemic that is sweeping the nation? (According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, childhood obesity has more than tripled in the past 30 years.) Even with stricter enforcement of health guidelines, students are still not required to take vegetables and fruits onto their plates when purchasing their lunches.

There seems to be a disconnect or just blatant apathy in a Congress that decided in November that two tablespoons of tomato sauce was good enough to categorize pizza as a vegetable.

It may be that the root of the problem when discussing school lunches is quality. Although we can provide iPads to our classrooms, the quality of hot lunches in our schools is far from top-notch. The Issaquah School District participates in the National School Lunch Program, a program lauded by its website as a “federally assisted meal program operating in public and nonprofit private schools and residential child care institutions that provides nutritionally balanced, low-cost or free lunches to children each school day.”

But under the program, schools only have about 90 cents per meal for ingredients, and only 13 percent of the commodities that are provided are fruits and vegetables.

Unfortunately, there is simply not a strong emphasis coming from Washington at the moment when it comes to addressing these glaring nutritional gaps. Perhaps instead of succumbing to packing lunches every day, we should start demanding change in the new year for lunches that will nourish in a healthy way.

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