There are several ways for children to be fed during school hours. One is to bring home made lunch in a cute little lunchbox (cool until third grade) or a brown bag (recyclable, of course.)
The other calorie intake method is to get fed by the school. We’ll talk about this method today. The reason it a 2 headed monster is that there are actually 2 types of school food:
1. Government subsidized free/reduced lunch – serving tens of millions of children daily.
2. “Competitive Foods” – sold at full price through vending machines, or alongside the subsidized fare.
A bit more detail:
1. The subsidized lunches are under strict regulation by the USDA, which mandates the nutriton profile of every meal served. We’ve written about school lunches in the past. They’re quite horrible – both from a nutrition perspective and from a flavor profile – it’s all prepackaged, processed poop (pardon our French). But that’s what you get on a shoestring budget. If you don’t believe us, you can read the diary of Mrs. Q (a teacher who took photos of school lunch every single day last year).
Slowly but surely, improvements are being made in school lunches. Recently the USDA, together with First Lady Michelle Obama, announced new and improved nutrition standards that include more fruits and vegetables, less calories, sodium reduction, and healthier milk. Yay!
Unfortunately some of the nutrition definitions are a bit, shall we say, loose. How else could pizza constitute a full serving of vegetable?
2. Competitive foods are simply put, a loophole. They allow kids to buy junk food on campus. They allow schools to get kickbacks from the junk food companies based on the sales success. Since federal regulation is very weak, each school district or state can decide for itself, or simply not decide, what goes into the school vending machines.
In a survey of thousands of schools across the country, published in the Archives of Pediatrics and Adolescent Medicine, researchers pointed out that in over half the elementary schools surveyed, junk foods are widely available. The situation is particularly dire in the southern states, wheres in the west schools tend to limit the types of snacks available for sale. On the bright side for the south, they had the highest availability of fresh fruits and vegetables.
Perhaps it’s time for Congress to reevaluate the full school food ecosystem?