The Importance of Nutrition in School Lunches and How We Can Help Decrease Obesity Rates Among Children, By Amanda Piret

Nutrition and obesity are rapidly becoming the primary concerns of public health. Thirty-five percent of children in the U.S. are overweight, or obese. The CDC predicts that one in three Americans will suffer from type 2 diabetes by 2050. For the first time in U.S. history, children born today have shorter life expectancies than their parents.

More than 16 percent of children in South Carolina are obese, with more than 83 percent receiving no daily physical education in school. Very few South Carolina children or adults meet their daily recommended values of fruits and vegetables, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. These issues need to be addressed. Poor health trends will only continue to get worse and raise a higher concern to our population.

Nutrition begins at home, but the public sphere and school community can also significantly impact children’s health. “Many children consume at least half of their meals at school, and for many children, food served at school may be the only food they regularly eat,” according to Changes at public school will start the change toward healthier kids. Some strategies and improvements are already underway to prevent and reduce rates of obesity in children. For example, The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act of 2010 focuses on nutrition of children in school lunches. Schools that meet the new guidelines outlined in the act receive an additional $.06 per meal reimbursement. The act focuses on portion sizes based on students’ age. It emphasizes lower-fat dairy and leaner proteins that were not available before. More fruits, vegetables and whole grains are offered, and the act designs school meals to meet one-third of daily caloric needs of students. The only sweetened beverages allowed are flavored skim milks, and trans and saturated fats are limited.

Enacting healthy practices at home also helps kids live healthier, balanced and more nutritious lives. To promote healthy eating in a child it is recommended that children have regular family meals, cook more meals at home, get more involved, make a variety of healthy snacks available instead of empty calorie snacks and limit portion sizes. Some healthy lunch ideas for children to take to school are listed below. Be creative but be sure to limit sugars and salt!

  • Wraps (Whole-grain wraps filled with turkey, cheese, lettuce and tomato)
  • Low-fat yogurt (it’s calcium and protein-rich)
  • 100% Juice, Juice Box
  • Fruit salad or fruit slices
  • Hard-boiled eggs
  • Celery with peanut butter topped with raisins.