December 26, 2010

Five myths about school food

Make lunch free for all, and count on more kids rejecting chips and cookies in favor of -- yes -- fruits and vegetables.

By JANET POPPENDIECK Special to The Washington Post

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Janet Poppendieck, a professor of sociology at Hunter College, is the author of "Free for All: Fixing School Food in America."

Nutritional standards can do only so much to get kids to eat balanced meals. The basic federal meal guidelines used by a majority of schools require them to offer five components: meat or meat alternate, a grain product, fluid milk, and two servings of fruit and vegetables.

The school meal is counted as reimbursable if students pick at least three of those components. A grilled chicken breast, a green salad and a carton of low-fat milk constitute a reimbursable meal, but so do a hot dog roll (the grain), a serving of french fries (the vegetable) and a dish of canned peaches (the fruit).

We need to do much more with food and health education, and make sure that what we offer in the cafeteria reflects what we are teaching in the classroom. That kind of integration with the curriculum is far more feasible in a universal free program where eating school lunch becomes the norm.

The Healthy, Hunger Free Kids Act authorizes pilot programs in individual schools and districts to experiment with universal free-meal approaches. The National School Lunch and Breakfast programs will come up again in five years, the next scheduled Child Nutrition Reauthorization. Let's start now to make universal free school meals the goal for that legislation.


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