Question of the Week

March 24, 2003

"The school bell rings. It's lunchtime! After grabbing some grub, you sit down with two of your friends. You glance at what they're eating. Other than the brownie they both picked for dessert, their choices differ like night and day. Your friend to the left is munching on chips and a pickle, drinking a soda. Your friend to the right has a sandwich - turkey and Swiss cheese on wheat bread with lettuce and tomato - plus a banana and milk. By the end of the day, you notice that one friend is dragging while the other still has a high level of energy. What's the deal? The difference comes from the vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients found in their lunch choices."

"You've heard the drill from your health teacher about the importance of eating well, but how are you supposed to do that when your schedule is so demanding and you're hardly ever at home?...A slice of pizza every once in a while won't do you any harm, but you should be careful to eat a healthy diet. Why? Because the food you eat affects your:
* mental functioning
* emotional well-being
* energy
* strength
* weight
* future health"

"But in more and more schools nationwide, children from kindergarten through high school are being taught that 'nutrition' comes in boxes of fast foods, candy wrappers and soft-drink cans and bottles. In many schools, fast-food companies have co-opted the lunch program, and children have ready access to soft-drink and snack machines.... Beginning in preschool, children are exposed to thousands of messages from advertisers that can corrupt the food lessons their parents hope to teach them. For example, Dr. Nestle cites the public television program for toddlers called 'Teletubbies,' sponsored first by Burger King and then by McDonald's, which distributed toys representing the four Teletubby characters....Once children are in school, the commercial lessons continue. More and more school lunch programs now offer brand-name fast foods....Some districts sign 'pouring-rights contracts' and they result in soda-pop vending machines in thousands of schools in return for big bucks the schools say they desperately need. The companies may even offer bonuses to schools that exceed stated sales targets."

"20.2% of schools offer brand-name fast foods to students, and in 16.6% of schools, an outside food service management company operates the school food service program."

"The federal government sets standards for the nutrition (if not the taste) of regular school lunches. The national school lunch program, in fact, was developed after too many young men during World War II failed their physicals due to malnutrition. But in schools today, à la carte meals answer to nobody -- except possibly Ronald McDonald. According to a nationwide survey conducted in 2000 by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 20 percent of schools sell McDonald's hamburgers, Pizza Hut pizzas, or other brand-name fast foods. A second survey of California high schools, also done in 2000, found that 95 percent sold à la carte fast foods, including many items from Taco Bell, Subway, and other big-name franchises."

Who or what determines the choices you have on the lunch menu at your school? Are these decisions based on taste (what students will eat), on nutrition (the food guide pyramid and what experts think students should be eating), on logistics (the money and time needed to purchase and prepare different foods), or is it a combination of different factors?

Are you happy with the choices you have? What would you consider good lunch menu choices? What do you think your school nurse or health teacher would consider a good choice? With all that in mind... Who should make the decisions about what menu options are offered to students? Should the government have a say? Should they be able to restrict or mandate certain aspects of the school lunch program? Should the students have a say, or do the students already have a say by showing what they are willing to buy? Should parents, teachers, or school administrators be able to decide what choices the students have, so that they can offer foods that they think will help students to function better in school while remaining cost effective for the district?

Questions of the Week:
Keeping all sides in mind (including, but not limited to: funding, nutrition, and taste), what would you do if you were in charge of creating a school lunch program for your school? Why would you make the decisions you did, and who do you think would offer opposition to your plans?

Please email me with any ideas or suggestions.
Note: Due to increasing amounts of SPAM sent to this account, please include "QOW" in the subject line when sending me email.

I look forward to reading what you have to say.

[email protected]
Health Community Coordinator
Access Excellence @ the National Health Museum

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