They Said It Couldn’t Work…Healthier Lunches Make Healthier Eaters

The HealthGal Health Guide
  • The Challenge

    Can you take school kids who are used to tasty lunches that have certain (as in high) fat/sugar/sodium parameters, hence the “good taste,” and feed them healthier fare, and actually get them to eat it?  And if you get them to eat it, will they rebel by eating more fat/sugar/sodium laden snacks later on in the day?  Or will they accept the healthier food and actually begin to showcase better numbers, as in healthier body weights?


    The History

    Back in January of 2012, the U.S. Department of Agriculture set new standards for school lunches, including maximum calorie counts (between 550 and 850 calories, depending on the age of the students) and restriction on milk fat, mandating only skim or 1% milk at lunch.  Prior to these new standards, the prior standard change had been to adhere to a minimum number of calories in the school lunch program.

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    The Findings

    Since the new school lunch standards were introduced, a new study was released suggesting that the students eating school lunches are exhibiting healthier weights.  The students who typically eat school lunches are typically overweight or obese, a health outcome associated with low income homes where the food environment (and genetics) may have contributed to heftier weights.  Now eating lunches with the new standards, they seem to be exhibiting weight improvements.  In some states, the school lunch standards are even stricter than the U.S. Department of Agriculture changes made in January of 2012, and even better weight outcomes are being noted.


    What About Snacking?

    Another study finding was that in the states where the more strict lunch guidelines are in effect, students consuming the school lunch did not seem to compensate for the healthier fare by purchasing less healthy snacks.  The researchers say that it’s a bit early on in the process to come to strong conclusions, but the initial outcomes seem to indicate that, strict lunch guidelines with healthier standards have a positive influence on obesity.  Experts are heartened by the study findings, and want government agencies to take note of these preliminary outcomes and then do more to encourage healthier food environments in schools.


    My Comments

    Parents could take a page from this playbook and use it on the home front.  Be willing to learn about nutrition and offer your kids (without threats) more fruits and vegetables, as well as a variety of meat and non-meat lean proteins, whole grain breads, pastas and cereals and switch over to 1% or skim milk and mostly water.  Snacks should include homemade trail mix (cereal, nuts, and dried fruit), yogurt, vegetables and healthy dips, or chunky homemade soups.  Smoothies made from frozen fruit, yogurt and juice is another good snack option.  Let the kids help with preparations and cooking, and they will be more likely to try new foods.  Be brave and be willing to allow transitions to happen on the food front, without setting specific timelines for the changes to happen.  Also, be willing as a parent to model the behaviors, especially if you yourself have been engaged with a limited diet that is not as healthy as it could be.


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    (Source: Reuters)


    Amy Hendel is a health professional, journalist and host of Food Rescue, Simple Smoothies and What’s for Lunch?  Author of Fat Families, Thin Families and The 4 Habits of Healthy Families, she tweets health headlines daily @HealthGal1103.  Catch her guest appearances on Marie! on Hallmark and other local and national news and talk shows.


Published On: April 12, 2013