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October 28, 2013

THEIR VIEW: Embrace nutrition guidelines instead of refusing school lunches

Kids raised on white bread, fast food and sweets are not going to be thrilled by school lunches featuring whole wheat, salads and fruit. That’s the crux of the reason some schools are now dropping out of the $11 billion National School Lunch Program.

It’s not a mass exodus, by any means, but some school districts are opting out of the program because, they say, kids aren’t eating what it now requires. Officials in Catlin, Ill., told the Associated Press that they saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch purchases, amounting to $30,000, last year.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines for school lunches have come in response to a childhood obesity epidemic and other health concerns. Comfort-food lunches that were served in school cafeterias for years — meatloaf with gravy, buttered corn, white rolls and frosted cake, among other staples — were loaded with calories, sodium and starches.

You can’t blame the schools. That food was served by families at home. Government programs supplied it, and it could be produced in mass quantities at a reasonable cost. But it wasn’t doing kids much good.

Consuming a better balance of nutrients, less sugar and sodium, reasonable portions and less processed food is healthy for anyone — especially children who are forming habits that will determine their longevity, not to mention our future health care costs. So, the government is wise in forcing schools to serve more fruits, vegetables, whole-grain foods and snacks like granola bars.

Schools that give up the lunch program take a big financial risk in turning down reimbursements of about 30 cents for each full-priced lunch, and $2.50 to $3 for each free or reduced-price lunch. Instead, schools and local health departments should continue to educate students and families about proper nutrition. Cafeteria workers should make the new foods as appealing as possible.

And parents must buy into the emphasis on nutrition. If they can encourage their children to eat these better foods at school — and stock their own cupboards with healthier choices — they will do everyone in their family a service.

— Plattsburgh (N.Y.) Press-Republican

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