What the school lunch debate says about our country’s committment to long-term success

Posted on October 21, 2009


Mystery meat, tater tots nestled beneath a slice of pizza, tacos every Thursday, & an ice cream bar open and available every single day of the week. If you have kids, I really hope you care about the debate firing up in Washington this week about the US School Lunch Program. If you don’t have kids, I bet I can have you caring about the debate by the time you’re done reading this week’s Tip….I’ll bet you your tater tots, ready?

there's no room for long-term success on this tray!

there's no room for long-term success on this tray!

Here’s the skinny (or rather, the fat) on the new guidelines being recommended to Congress & the USDA on national standards for what should be going on lunch trays across the country. While noble, there are still some egregious problems with what is being proposed for our kids who currently stand 1 in 7 who are obese & 1 in 3 who are overweight. Personally, my heart breaks for kids who grow up overweight or obese- it’s tough enough trying to fit in with the other kids at school, let alone add a weight problem into the mix. Here’s what’s being recommended, and if you’ve been reading and learning with Real Knowledge Tips for a while, see if you can spot the problems. I’ll elaborate on them below.

Goals for new Lunch Guidelines:

  • Ceilings on total number of calories allowed to be served in a meal
    • For kids up to 5th grade = no more than 650 calories
    • For grades 6-8 = 700 calories
    • For grades 9-12 = 850 calories
  • Reduce levels of sodium in meals by 50% over the next 10 years
    • Some estimates have typical school lunches at 1500 mg of sodium (2300 is the daily ceiling for sodium)
  • More fruits & veggies being offered, with only half allowed from juices
    • Per week, offer 2 1/2 – 5 servings of fruit for lunch
    • Per week, offer 1 1/4 – 2 1/2 servings of vegetables
    • Per week, offer 9 – 13 servings of grains, at least half of which are from whole grains

So what do you think? Are we even in the same zip code as ‘healthy’? To be fair, these long-term goals in the same zip code as healthy when compared to where we are today, but we are not anywhere near the same city as real ‘healthy’ is living. Here’s the problems:

– There are very few adults who need 650 calories for lunch, let alone a little 5th grade child! If you’re an adult athlete, you may be eating 650 calories, but take a look at your expenditure to warrant those calories. There are very few 5th graders who are moving as much as an adult athlete does in a day, so the chance of burning off 650 calories – in one meal!! – is slim. If any person, adult or child, ate meals from all sources of healthy food – vegetables, lean meats, fruits, whole grains – it actually is very challenging to even eat 650 calories. That’s a lot of vegetables to eat!!

– Sodium content in school lunches today is frightening, given that too much sodium in the diet is one of the most controllable things when it comes to heart health. Well, that and obesity – weird that those two go hand in hand! There is no good reason for it to take 10 years to implement a 50% shift in sodium content. When it comes to sodium content, you’re talking about immediate response in the body after consumption – within 30 mins of consuming a high sodium meal, blood vessels constrict, blood pressure goes up, and stress on the heart becomes greater. Why would we wait 10 years to solve that problem for our kids? As adults, we can do it in 1 day, we just go shopping for different food. That should be the case for our kids too.

– If you’re offering 1 1/4 – 2 1/2 servings of vegetables per week, does that mean we’ll be seeing 3 cherry tomatoes go down on the lunch tray and we’ll call it a day on the veggies? You should know by now that vegetables are some of the greatest sources of energy, body optimizing vitamins & minerals, and naturally fiber-rich foods on the planet. We know that kids may take somewhere in the neighborhood of 12 tries to finally develop a taste for a food. If we are giving them less than 1 chance per day to try and experience veggies, we are setting them up to forever put off eating their greens.

And what is always the biggest problem in any national program. How do we pay for this? While this is a valid question, since we seem to be further in debt every day, we can’t just spend on every program we want to and expect to have money in the coffers when we’re done- there’s a catch-22 that if addressed, could actually save this country money, health, and maybe even happiness in the long run! 

Folks, we’re talking about a potential short-term sacrifice for a huge long-term gain. What is one of the other biggest costs in this country? Americans who are in poor health and who are putting such a strain on our healthcare system- we’re spending more than ever to keep these people out of hospitals, the people themselves are spending more than ever on prescription drugs & all of our healthcare premiums are going up substantially because of those who are not in optimal health.  

Those of you trying to live as optimally well as possible should take note that in living optimally well, we will many times have to make a short-term sacrifice for a long-term gain. There will be the day when you skip out on your Auntie’s top-secret once-a-year holiday cookies in the name of your weight loss goal. There will be the time when you’d rather hang out at home with your kids on Saturday morning, but you leave them with your spouse or babysitter and hit the gym in the name of your best-parent-best-example-you-can-possibly-be goal. There will be the time that you know you really need to spend the money and work with the professional to heal your body/ align your spine/design your personalized program/coach you back from an injury & it means sacrificing somewhere else in the budget.

And when you make those short-term sacrifices, you hopefully are realizing that there is massive long-term benefit in the form of healthier bodies, better immune systems, less medical conditions, less money spent on hospitalizations and medications later in life, and the list goes on.  You are making the commitment to make a short-term sacrifice for a bigger long-term success – why would any of us not support doing the same for the youth of this country?

Compare your personal commitment to your goals right now. Are you making the short-term sacrifice in the name of the long-term success? If not, would you like to join our school children whose health is being sacrificed in the name of saving a buck. What price do you put on your health? What price can you put on a child’s health?

There is no one who is unworthy of great health & optimal fitness. Everyone is worth spending a little more time/money/effort now to live a healthier, happier, longer, more optimal life both now, and in the future. So pay attention as this debate carries on and support the idea of giving kids (and yourself) a chance for success by sacrificing a little something now for a big something later.