In March 2015 the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report titled “Snacks, Sweetened Beverages, Added Sugars, and Schools.” This article is a discussion on the report findings and recommendations.
What kids eat at school matters! More than 55 million children and teens attend the nation’s public schools, and eat about 35%-40% of their daily calories at school. It’s really important that those calories are healthy ones – especially since 1/3 of the calories kids eat these days aren’t healthy. If we can make the food they eat at school healthier, it could make a big difference!
There are three types of food found in schools: school meals sponsored by the USDA, food and drinks sold at school or in vending machines, and other food items (those brought in by students or served for special occasions).
School meals and food sold at school are regulated by the USDA and are subject to the Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act passed in 2010. The latest recommendations (2012) encourage less sugar, lean meats, low fat dairy, more fruits, vegetables and whole grains, as well as smaller, kid-sized servings. Approximately 93% of schools are currently serving meals that meet the high nutritional quality, which is great! There are challenges, however, especially financial ones. Healthy foods can be more expensive to purchase and serve.
All the other foods eaten at school are not regulated by the USDA. Some schools have made attempts to encourage healthier foods by prohibiting sweets for class parties or deciding not to sell candy for school fundraisers. This has caused an uproar in some communities, and many parents have wondered: what’s the harm in an occasional cupcake? The bottom line is that there is no harm in the occasional cupcake – if it’s part of an overall healthy diet. The challenge can arise when there are cupcakes present for someone’s celebration almost every day!
By banning sweets at parties or for rewards, schools are forcing people to think of healthy ways to celebrate, either with healthy foods or without foods at all. Banning candy for fundraisers (or at school events) also forces people to stop and think about what they are doing and how it may impact students. This shows that the school values student health, and can help create a school culture of healthy eating.
Too many children are eating junk food, processed foods, and sweets, and washing it down with sugar-sweetened beverages. It’s understandable – kids usually are happy with these foods, and they are generally less expensive than healthier alternatives. However, eating them regularly can lead to obesity, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and other health problems. None of us wants that to happen to our children! That’s why we all need to work together to help kids make the right choices and eat healthier meals.