The first day of school is only a few weeks away. What will your children eat for lunch?
Some parents will opt to send a lunch from home. While others will give their child money to buy their lunch at school.
Either way, it’s important to make sure that students are eating healthy so they do well in school.
Barb Mechura, director of food and nutrition services for the Hopkins School District, said there’s a good reason to be concerned about what students eat during the day, especially at a young age.
“What we really have is a health crisis," she said. “Even people who aren't obese but are overweight or heavy can have major health problems.”
She said research has linked poor diet and weight gain to ADHD, depression and other conditions.
Mechura also said many young people are screened for conditions that used to be routinely found only in adults.
“There are some very scary statistics: They are starting to screen infants for obesity. And they’re starting to talk about screening children for cholesterol and high blood pressure.”
Mechura said processed foods often play a major part in poor diets. With all the conflicting messages from advertisers, she said it's sometimes hard to know what’s good and what’s not.
“Man was created in nature and we were given the foods to help us survive: that’s what we should be eating. What are those foods? Fruits and veggies—as much as possible—and whole grains.”
She also said children should eat meat and dairy in small portions.
In her opinion, some unhealthy foods are often considered healthy by parents:
- Fruit snacks—a piece of whole fruit or a can of diced peaches would be much better. Fruit snacks are highly processed, which causes loss of the fiber, nutrients and minerals found in whole fruit.
- Some fruit juices—those with high fructose corn syrup are not a healthy choice.
- Breakfast cereal—even those that say “made with whole grain” have much of the nutrition processed out of them. Granola or oatmeal are the betters choices she said.
Many parents avoid the hassle of packing a lunch altogether and instead have their kids buy lunch at school.
Mary Lombardi, who heads Food and Nutrition Services for the Edina School District, said the lunches the district provides are a healthy options and model good eating habits for students.
“It’s important that they learn how to eat well. And the way to do that is participate in the [school lunch] program.
“Its emphasis is on fruits and vegetables, and whole grains, and then protein and dairy,” she said.
Lombardi sees her role as more than just providing healthy food. She also thinks it's essential to teach students why it's important to eat the right thing.
“One of our big goals for the year is really getting more education materials—in several forms of media out there—as well as in the classroom to the students. That’s how we want them to choose their lunch.”
Other schools are working to educate their students in nutrition.
Shakopee schools have recently placed a series of educational posters in their buildings to teach students and families about healthy eating habits.
The poster series theme is “Make your Plate Great” and it focuses on healthy meals and regular physical activity.
She also stressed the importance of following healthy meal behaviors at home.
“Research suggests sharing a meal regularly can boost children’s health and well being, reduce the likelihood for obesity and drug use, and increase the chances they will do well in school,” said Shakopee school nurse Carol Armstrong.
She encourages families to eat at home.
“Dining out usually means more unnecessary calories,” she said.
If concerned parents see that schools are not providing enough healthy options, they can take action.
“Parents can influence their student lunch option by talking with the school board and letting them know the health of their child is important,” Mechura said. “They need to make this a part of their strategic plan. They need to make this a priority in the schools because a child needs to be healthy or they’re not going to be ready to learn”