Why Current USDA Nutrition Standards Result in Sugary School Meals

by Bettina Elias Siegel on September 14, 2010

I’ve written quite a bit here about the reliance of my school district on items like graham crackers to meet the high caloric requirements set by the USDA for school breakfasts.  I’ve also been surprised as I do my “Notes from the Field” features to see how often dessert is served as part of the school lunch in my kids’ cafeteria.

At both breakfast and lunch, processed foods that are high in sugar show up on kids’ trays for no other reason than compliance with outdated governmental regulations, a practice that flies in the face of reason as we face a childhood obesity crisis.  Ed Bruske, blogger at Better DC School Food, has a great post up today clearly explaining the sugar/calorie problem — and offering a glimmer of hope for the future.  It’s well worth reading.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Leslie September 14, 2010 at 2:49 pm

I love what Ed Bruske reports about the Institute of Medicine’s recommendations for calories in a school lunch: A *higher* percentage of the calories should come from fat–yes, you heard me, FAT!

How do we lower the sugar in schoolroom lunches? Here is one way that we can cut both sugar and HFCS in our kids’ lunches, by tilting the proportion a bit more in favor of the nutrient our kids so desperately need–even the chubby ones–old-fashioned fats, like those in milk, eggs, and meat. I only hope that the fats that are increased are not the trans fats or the omega-6 fats…

I can’t believe the IOM would recommend such a thing, but here’s hoping they do it right!

Thanks for the link, Bettina.

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Maggie September 14, 2010 at 4:46 pm

So true. However, until those rules and regulations change, we’ve (food service) got to follow them – well, if we want to survive financially at least. Silly budget!

I know Bettina has mentioned Janet Poppendiek’s book – “Free for All”. If anyone wants to see the history of the layers of regulations built on top of one another, it is a great reference. I wonder if in 10 years we’ll find out that high fructose corn syrup wasn’t a problem after all?

Planning menus is a challenge indeed, for so many reasons. Yes, a minimum number of calories (~660 for K-6, if I recall, which is 1/3 of daily). Under 10% fat. Did you know that lettuce has a tiny bit of fat? Did you know that lettuce is low in calories? Did you know that when you combine those two facts, a 1/2 cup serving of mixed iceburg/romaine shows as 12.5% fat. *sigh*

Beyond the regulations of menu planning, there’s the delivery schedules to consider, the equipment available, time/labor available (for prep and serving), considerations of any special situations (a school with attempts to limit or avoid items such as peanuts perhaps), cultural concerns (should certain foods be avoided? or at least an alternate offered?) and a wish to prepare foods that students will like and eat (without being “held hostage” to their tastes) – because if they don’t eat it, what good is that? Oh, and that crazy thing called a budget again.

OK, I’ll stop before I write a book! ;-) Sorry.

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Viki September 14, 2010 at 5:01 pm

I’m with Leslie all the way on this one. Good fats…Omega 3’s.
Whole milk not 1%. would fill the kids up and not out.
I’ve been researching fats and we’ve been sold a bill of goods on the low fat no fat diet foods. Esp. for the kids.

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Joanne Roach September 15, 2010 at 7:15 am

I find the whole way we have divorced nutrients on paper from the act of eating satisfying wholesome foods very sad.
It’s like the comedy sketch where someone orders 2 Big Macs, fries, onion rings, a McFlurry… and a diet coke.
Of course calories are important, but there are not many opportunities during a child’s busy day to pack genuine nutrients into what goes in their mouth, and so lazy shortcutting to a calorie count with a nutritionally bankrupt flour or sugar product is a tragically missed opportunity.

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