There’s been a lot of talk in the media about a bill in congress that purports to scale back on school meals because the 2010 Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act requires schools to use more wholesome ingredients and set fat, sugar and sodium limits. Republican lawmakers say it’s too expensive and the food choices aren’t appealing.
There are many ways to approach this debate. I don’t think I’m not alone when I say I am both indignant and confused. But as a registered dietitian, I think my job is to inform as to why healthy school breakfasts and lunches are critical for our children’s growth – mentally and physically. So even though the juice boxes and chips are appealing, quick, and cheap, they’re dumbing down our kids and not giving them what they need to learn and grow.
Food for thought: our brains and academic success depend on good food. It’s as simple as that. And for our brains to function properly, they need these elements:
- Fat. Yes, you read that right. Our brains are 60% fat and use 20% of all the body’s metabolic energy. 25% of our cholesterol is in our brain. It takes fat to think. This doesn’t mean you need a plate of bacon, and you’re good. We need polyunsaturated fats, DHA, and saturated fats: nuts, seeds, avocados, fatty fish, olive oil and whole eggs (don’t take out the yolk!).
- Protein. Protein is made from chains of amino acids that are used to build neuro transmitters (the basis of all learning). Protein sparks those necessary brain connections. Again, think beyond the burger. Great protein sources include nuts, fatty fish like salmon, eggs, lean meats, tofu, pulses, yogurts, and cheeses.
- Carbohydrates. For some reason, these get on the bad-guy list for diets all the time. But our brains need carbs. They’re our brain’s fuel source, as the body breaks them down into glucose which is the gas to rev up our engines. Our brain cells need two times more energy than other cells. Add the fact that skipping out on carbs tweaks our regulation of serotonin making for very cranky kids. The best carbs for our bodies are: whole-grain breads and cereals, barley and quinoa, fruits and vegetables, whole-wheat pastas and rice.
The USDA official statement regarding the 2010 legislation reads “[t]he Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act allows USDA, for the first time in over 30 years, opportunity to make real reforms to the school lunch and breakfast programs by improving the critical nutrition and hunger safety net for millions of children.” Because of this act, there was a national standard that schools had to meet to ensure that kids not only get fed, but also with the right elements to help them succeed.
The first week of March, the School Nutrition Association celebrates National School Breakfast Week. This year’s theme was “Take the School Breakfast Challenge.” This campaign supports the 2010 Act, in that it challenges schools to comply with national standards and choose the best foods to feed our children.
Getting creative and serving healthy breakfasts is hard. Following the guidelines set in the 2010 legislation, we’re helping to make sure our kids are getting fed. This is the first step toward academic success. I’m not sure whether our country can afford not to continue with these important programs.