What's for (School) Lunch? Cornbread and Corn Cobbettes

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

“Frito-Lay traveling nachos with cornbread, served with a corn cobbette” – that’s what’s for lunch today in my old elementary school cafeteria in Richmond, VA.

Every day more than 30 million kids eat one or even two corn-heavy meals like this. Since the Centers for Disease Control has found that 16% of American children are overweight, it’s no surprise that a report released today by the Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommends changes in the US Department of Agriculture standards for school meals to encourage healthier breakfasts and lunches.

“School Meals: Building Blocks for Healthy Children” doesn’t break any nutritional ground; however, its three major recommendations would help bring the National School Lunch Program and the School Breakfast Program in line with the 2005 USDA Dietary Guidelines for Americans.

  1. Require two daily servings of fruits and vegetables, which must include “dark green, bright orange, legumes, starchy and other vegetables” every week.
  2. Decrease amounts of sodium and saturated fat.
  3. Set a maximum number of calories per meal.

It’s hard to argue with implementing such commonsense nutritional advice in schools. (Carrots instead of cornbread is a no-brainer.) The more controversial question is how to pay for it in a food landscape where the most nutritious calories are often the most expensive.

The IOM notes that implementing its recommendations could have “a major effect on the cost of food” to schools, citing particularly the expense of buying more fruits and vegetables. Among its many suggestions, the report calls for an increase in the amount of money the federal government gives schools per meal and suggests money-saving strategies for school food services.

The two tactics that won’t work are serving fewer meals or increasing the cost to students. It will take cooperation among administrators, cafeteria employees, legislators, and parents to give our children more nutritious food at school without excluding anyone, but just because we feed lots of kids isn’t an excuse for feeding them bushels of taxpayer subsidized corn cobbettes.

[Thanks to chalkdog and Flickr for the photo.]


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