Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Is School Lunch Bad?

How often do your kids eat hot lunch at school? I don't know what I am going to do when my little ones get in school. I can't imagine packing a lunch everyday, but my mom did it. So, I feel like I can too. I would hope the lunches served at schools now aren't as bad for kids as when I was in school, but this story from CNN makes me think otherwise.

CNN: As schools start across the country, a debate is underway regarding what your kids eat for lunch. Processed meats - specifically those cured by nitrites - like most hot dogs and ham - are the center of the debate.

They've been a staple of school lunches for decades, hot dogs, pepperoni pizza, ham, but now there are increasing calls for schools to drop processed meats from your child's menu. The reason? Not the obesity epidemic, it's nitrites that some studies have linked to cancer. Dr. Walter Willett is Chair of the Department of Nutrition at the Harvard School of Public Health. "If you care about the health of your child, you don't want your child eating processed meats for lunch at home or at school. The American Cancer Society says "eating processed meats increases exposure to potential cancer causing agents and should be reduced as much as possible."

The American Institute for Cancer Research says simply: "Avoid processed meat." But not everyone agrees. Randy Huffman is President of the American Meat Institute Foundation, an industry-sponsored advocacy group. He's taken his case right to today's version of the public square: YouTube. "If you like cured meats that contain sodium nitrite, you should eat them with confidence." Huffman, points out: "There are studies showing a link between cancer and processed meat, but there are also studies that do not show a link. The science is not certain on this issue. There's still a lot of questions."

Hufman says many foods, like spinach, or pomegranates naturally contain nitrites. A liter of pomegranate juice contributes about 100 times more nitrite than a hot dog. We put that to Dr. Willett: "In my book that's just plain baloney." Willett, and many other experts, say nitrites are fine in fruits and vegetables and are only a problem when combined with protein like in meat.

The meat industry disagrees. "This is, what you're referring to is an old theory. We showed that Youtube video to several experts and they said they found it misleading. I don't know who your experts were but you're not talking to the right ones."

So while the experts debate processed meats won't be disappearing from school lunch menus any time soon. So what about processed meats in school lunches? We spoke with officials from the School Nutrition Association, which represents school dietitians around the country. It says the science behind the calls to eliminate processed meats from schools is far from conclusive.

What kind of lunch does your child's school provide? How often to pack a sack lunch?

Copy and paste this link so you can email the story to friends! NewsAnchorMom on School Lunch

Click here to take our HOI 19 Poll: Do your kids eat hot lunch at school?

-NewsAnchorMom Jen

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Jennifer said...

My son eats hot lunch everyday and you are right, it is a lot of processed meat. At his high school the most popular entry is nachos, not exactly healthy either! Luckily we avoid processed meats at home (except bacon on Sunday mornings) so I'm hoping the amount he eats at school isn't having an effect. My daughter, on the other hand, hates school lunch and has "cold lunch" as they call it, every day. I think, overall, her packed lunch is healthier than my son's hot lunch. (Even though his lunch has a fruit and vegetable I honestly doubt that he eats them).
I don't pack her lunch though, for the past several years she has been making it herself. And when she was younger we would pack it together in the evenings. (Even little kids can spread pb & j using a plastic knife and wash and put grapes or carrots in a baggie)

Shannon said...

This year I am making a concerted effort to pack lunches for my kids. I'm a bit worried about what we'll do in the winter, as they aren't big eaters of the kinds of things that would generally do ok in a thermos or any kind of insulated food carrier. But we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. And really, they get a hot breakfast and a hot dinner so a healthy, cold lunch isn't the end of the world - they're probably better off.

When my son started Kindergarten, I packed his lunch unless there was something on the menu that he liked at school. As time went on, he tried more and more things at school. He bought lunch at school for most of first grade. This was good in getting him to try new foods, but I'm not a big fan of the school lunches as a general rule.

One example - a hot pretzel with cheese sauce is one of the "entrees." I can only imagine what a struggle it must be to come up with healthy foods that will appeal to a wide base of young children, but really?

The other issue I have with school lunches is that I have to provide a doctor's note in order for my children to have juice instead of milk with their lunch. I'm not exactly sure why, (juice is more expensive? The government subsidizes all the milk or requires them to give it because it's "healthy"?) but I feel it usurps my role as their parent and it makes me nuts! If they bring their lunch I could probably stick a beer in there (not that I would... just making a point here!) and noone would care.

In short, I've decided to stop paying $2 a lunch for overly-processed foods and canned vegetables and fruits. Their lunches aren't perfect pictures of healthy foods, but they're better than what's offered at school, imho.

Anonymous said...

School lunches are made with irradiated food (google it) so not only are they bad but worse than that. They lack ALL nutritional value because irradiation kills not only the bacteria but also the minerals and vitamins leaving the food useless. Who knows what the long term effects will be from subjecting our children's school lunches to radiation...and no, they don't have to tell you it's irradiated either.
Maybe if we feed our children fresh fruits and vegetables instead of processed crap, they just might get healthier, improve behavior, and be smarter no longer needing all the medicines pushed by teachers and pumped into their little bodies.

Charles said...

It is really easy to generalize and judge without doing your homework when it comes to school lunches. We all know the stereotypes - we don't all know the facts. As a dad of two and a school lunch guy I encourage you to ask for the nutritional analysis of the lunches at your kids' schools. You'll find low fat content, whole grain items, fresh fruits and vegetables all incorporated into meal kids like - such as the pizza with whole wheat crust, low fat cheese and lean, low sodium turkey sausage. I wish I could get that pizza for home. Maybe if we had more than $2.50 to work with to create the meal you'd see even more innovation that the kiwis, hummus and turkey wraps we already offer. The processed meat issue is one that the scientist have to figure out - the CNN story left out the pooling project research out of Harvard last year that found no link between cancer and processed meat... As for irradiation - irradiated beef is available to school but no schools have accepted it to date.

newsanchormom.com said...

Charles, that's great news. I would love to know which local school districts serve the healthiest items, with the least about of processed food. Which school do you work for?

Shannon said...

I can guarantee that none of the items Charles mentioned have ever been on my kids' school lunch menu, but if they were I'd change my tune!

Here was yesterday's menu:
Beef and Noodles
"Tony's" Cheese Pizza
Peanut butter and jelly sandwich (it's the 3rd option every day)
Whipped potatoes

My kids took pb&j sandwiches, 100% juice juice boxes (from Trader Joe's), carrot sticks, apple sauce (no artificial sweeteners or sugar added), and one of them also wanted a Kashi granola bar. In looking at it now it's probably more sugar than I'd like for them to have but we're still trying to get into a routine here!

In looking over the lunch menu for the month, I see they have introduced a few new, healthier things this year (like romaine lettuce salad) so hopefully we're heading in the right direction!

You know.. I'd be interested to know if there's a connection between the number of free and reduced lunches your district has and the quality of food. Our district is about 52% free and reduced and I don't know all the details but I would expect the govt. doesn't reimburse the whole difference? That would put an obvious economic strain on the effort to offer more nutritious choices, as I think we can probably all agree that eating healthy currently often costs more than not.

Anonymous said...

I agree about our menu not having anything Charles mentioned. I'd be curious as to which district he's talking about because I've never heard of pizza being made with whole wheat bread.
When my son was in school, he ate pizza every single day dippe din ranch dressing, with chocolate milk and cookies.
Needles to say, I am glad I made the switch to homescholling all my kids.
And as for irradiated food, the FDA doesn't have to disclose to schools if it's been irradiated or not so most of the cafeterias/schools won't know either way. It still looks like fresh food, just has no nutrition left in it. Microwaves irradiate food too so if schools use them, they do the pretty much the same damage to food. That is a fact.

Anonymous said...

I work in a school cafeteria. Looking at most of these comments we are getting a bad rap. In the state of Texas we have very strict guidelines. We have a Texas Public School Nutrition Policy. We offer lots of fruits & vegetables. All of our pizza is made with whole grains and low fat cheeses. All the cheese we use is reduced fat. We serve only 1% milk. We do not fry any foods. Our chips that we do serve are baked. Most of our breaded meats are made using whole grain, we serve only white wheat bread and buns, Our cookies are reduced fat and made with whole grains. Our hamburger patties are not fried and they also are reduced fat. We analyze our menus and we meet or exceed dietary guidelines So, please give some of us a break concerning school lunches.

Anonymous said...

I work at a school cafeteria also. The food there is made up of all the bad things that were being talked about, but what is worse at my school is that the food is recycled. Whatever is leftover from the high school and two grade schools is mixed together and frozen to be served at a later date. I beg parents to call their health department and have an unannounced inspection, because we are always made aware of inspections ahead of time we make everything up to code. Make sure they look in the freezer for any leftover food.

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