Recent new meal guidelines are infiltrating school programs across the nation, in an attempt to offer students healthier breakfasts and lunches. These changes have not happened without controversy, the most recent involving a young student's lunch from home that was initially labeled "unhealthy" by a lunch monitor. Later on, the mother, rather upset but wanting to remain anonymous, was interviewed by a reporter and confirmed that the lunch, upon review, was deemed healthy and conformed to the food group specifications and standards newly set up by the government.
Well now the government moves forward with its next effort to set nutrition standards for school age kids, and these guidelines involve food available outside the cafeteria, namely in vending machines on school property. The move is a second effort in trying to control the 20% to 50% of daily food intake that for most kids occurs at school. Since we all know what is typically found in vending machines - caloric beverages, chips, candy - it seems to be a reasonable and valid health effort. But food manufacturers say that some/many snack products and drinks are healthy or healthier, while some school officials and parents feel that being "overly restrictive" will also not achieve the goal of reducing kid's waistlines. Also of concern is the fact that most school fundraisers that provide needed revenue for sports, music, arts and other special programs will be affected if they can't sell certain popular foods and snacks. Nutritionists feel that there are far too many chips, cookies and sugary drinks on campus these days.
The guidelines for vending machines will probably involve the same sodium, sugar and fat parameters being used for school mealtime foods. Now we already saw how Congress stepped in to prevent the removal of pizza (containing tomatoes so called a "vegetable-based food") and fries (containing potatoes, another vegetable) from being tossed off campus. It would not be surprising if a similar battle is waged by food manufacturers and beverage companies against these impending vending machine changes. The American Academy of Pediatrics has taken the position that despite some changes in vending machine product offerings, with healthier options sitting alongside less healthy options, there has been little change in kid's weight and waistlines. Certainly there needs to be a consistent policy nationwide. And most experts feel that voluntary changes, which have been made in the food and beverage industries, are simply not enough. Of course the question looms - If healthy foods are to become the vending machine norm, will kids simply go of campus to get their treat of choice, or will they find it easy to ask mom to buy it, and then brown bag it from home?
From my perspective, change takes time, particularly when it involves "palate familiarity," but I think if kids are given a chance - and an explanation - they may, in time, embrace these healthier food counterparts. Time will tell. What do you think?
Published On: February 21, 2012