Get the Lowdown on Back-to-School Nutrition

grade-a-school-lunch-appleIt’s back to school time, and as a dietitian and a mom of a second grader and a sophomore in high school, I’ve had my fair share of questions about our school district’s nutrition programs. After all, one of the most important things we can do for our children is raise them to be healthy eaters.

It seems like most of the chatter you hear about school nutrition is negative. But the fact is: schools are required to comply with the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act which has specific nutrition standards.

Case in point: sodium. The food industry is working diligently to reduce the sodium content of foods, and schools are now in compliance with the first of three target levels for sodium reduction in both breakfast and lunch programs, with specific levels for different age groups. Solutions have included: smaller portion sizes for the ‘center of the plate’ (the entrée), more fruits and vegetables (which are naturally low in sodium), and avoiding the use of any added salt or garlic salt. However, sodium is naturally occurring in milk and whole grain bread, which poses a challenge that many people aren’t aware of.

The truth is, despite limited budgets and support, school foodservice professionals are fulfilling high nutrition standards. In fact research shows that lunches brought from home are often less healthy than school lunches, indicating that parents have a hard time adhering to the strict criteria. In addition, if kids don’t have enough time to eat, they may be more likely to throw food out. It doesn’t matter how nutritious the food is if kids aren’t actually eating it.   

I’m sure there will always be suggestions and ideas for improving school nutrition – we all want our kids to be healthy and well nourished. But when you look at the facts, school nutrition professionals truly do A+ work every day!

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