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Community Rx (old)

We Are Forgetting One Lesson, And It Starts In The School Cafeteria

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Foods lean turkey, lower sodium cheese and whole wheat tortillas mix with local hydroponic lettuce to make wraps for elementary school students. (2013)
The U.S. Department of Agriculture/
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA)

Last week, the New England Journal of Medicinepublished an article about school lunches and nutritional “mandates” for the United States; a fascinating read.

The piece sparked a variety of conversations about whether it’s possible to provide good nutrition at a reasonable cost, without sacrificing taste (the most important factor, according to my young patients.)

Some things I heard this week….

1. “I eat square chicken (chicken nuggets) and fries every day and am f-i-n-e.”

2.  “No one dies just from not eating vegetables.” 

3.  “Eating chips makes me happy.”

To a certain degree, humans are the ultimate flex fuel vehicle. Technically, we can survive on “anything;” however, our choices end up taking its toll on our bodies. This is why we emphasize healthy eating and the 5-2-1-0 guidelines: the scale I ask my patients to use when grading their meals. Most teens identify school lunch as the worst meal.

The current school requirements split fruits and vegetables into two separate categories (and rightly so). Previously, they were combined into one requirement, which was filled 1/3 of the time with potatoes. I will digress for a moment to point out that potatoes should be categorized as grain or starch.

The challenge is this: how to meet these reasonable nutritional goals and provide something tasty within budget. Instead of opting out of the healthier mandates, we should focus on how to meet them both at school and at home.

We want school to teach our kids the skills they need to succeed in life—this includes good nutrition. Healthy eating is a lifelong skill. It is time for us to put our collective money where our kids’ mouths are.

Dr. M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, M.D., is a Pediatric Endocrinologist at the McNeely Pediatric Diabetes Center and Endocrine Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. Every few weeks, she shares her perspective on a different issue in pediatrics for her blog “Your Periodic Dose.”