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1/31/12blog post

a new spin on school lunches

Recently, First Lady Michelle Obama and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack announced the new regulatory requirements for the nutrition standards under the rules for the National School Lunch and School Breakfast Programs. I reviewed the new changes and I must say, as a dietitian and a mother, I am thrilled. 

It is difficult to control what your young child eats when as many as 10 meals + snacks are consumed away from your home (more than that for teens!). Wouldn’t it be nice to have reassurance that your child is taken care of at school just as they are at home? It would make life easier in the morning (or evening) if we parents didn’t have to pack our child’s lunch, it’s just one more thing to think about. (Like we aren’t already busy enough with homework, laundry, running kids to sports, right?)

I’ve personally witnessed the stress and depression that can build in a parent of a child who is overweight or obese. I’ve worked with many families here at Dayton Children’s on their child’s diet to help them achieve a weight that is healthy and which would lower their healthcare costs and number of office visits. As the nutrition professional, I see families make healthy changes at home, but have little control of what their child eats away from home.

Many parents work full time, which means their child eats two meals and a snack at school and during afterschool programs - leaving parents in control of only one meal that day. Parents bring in their child’s lunch menus and I’m surprised by the choices that are available to their children. I educate their children on how to make healthy choices at school, but when their choice of meat is either a chicken patty or nugget, both the parent and the health professional feel frustrated. Another amazing story from the families I work with includes a child over the age of 2 requiring a doctor’s note so that they can have low fat milk instead of whole at their daycare.

Some of the school breakfast menus are worse than the lunches. Poptarts are a common breakfast choice served at school. Would you ever give your child cake fortified with vitamins and minerals for breakfast? Well, that is a poptart in my expert opinion and, based on limited funds and popular demand, some schools do.

Sometimes the only option to ensure my patients get healthy choices at school is for them to pack their lunches and eat breakfast at home. But then, what is the point of providing subsidized meals?

So, I say hats off to our First Lady and the USDA-well done! What do you think about the new regulations?

What are some ways in which you ensure your child has a healthy lunch?

Watch a video on how to pack a healthy school lunch!

Shannon Burkett has worked at Dayton Children’s for 4 years and covers hematology and oncology. She graduated with a bachelor degree in elementary education from Purdue University in 2000 and graduated in 2004 from Loyola University of Chicago, where she studied Nutrition and Dietetics. Shannon is passionate about running and cooking.Shannon is also a licensed teacher and is currently working on jer masters in education. She is married and has two boys whom she adores!