By: Sarah Yi — Editor-in-Chief
Non-nutritious and prepackaged school lunches have large effects on child and adolescent development such as obesity and less energy and interest in learning. It is crucial that children are provided with healthy and nutritious school lunches as it leads to better mental, physical, and emotional health both in and out of the classroom.
Non-nutritious pre-packaged school lunches lead to a high obesity rate in children. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “obesity prevalence was 13.4% among 2- to 5-year-olds, 20.3% among 6- to 11-year-olds, and 21.2% among 12- to 19-year-olds. Childhood obesity is also more common among certain populations.” Obesity rates have increased significantly through the years therefore if healthier school lunches are served, these statistics could potentially be reduced. A student’s school lunch is one out of the three important meals of the day; therefore it should be full of nutrients and should be filling as a childs’ growth spurt usually happens during these stages of development. According to Johns Hopkins Medicine, many adolescents experience a growth spurt and an increase in appetite and need healthy foods to meet their growth needs. Meeting daily requirements of balanced meals including fruits, grains, vegetables, protein, and dairy allows the body to grow and build strong. Factory packaged pancakes and muffins are full of sugar and do not meet an adolescent’s growth needs.
Unhealthy foods provided by the school lead to less energy and less interest in learning. According to the Food Research and Action Center, providing students with breakfast in the classroom is associated with lower rates of tardiness, fewer disciplinary office referrals, improved attendance rates, and improved math and reading achievement test scores. Keeping the stomach full increases attentiveness among students. These nutrients send signals to the body and affect the way students learn and their attention span in the classroom. According to the National Institute for Student-Centered Education, the brain needs a variety of nutrients to be able to function optimally. To focus, remember and regulate our emotions we need protein, unsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates and sugars (in grains, fruits, and vegetables), as well as a host of trace elements such as iron, potassium, and selenium. With a good mix of protein, unsaturated fats, complex carbohydrates, sugars, including many vitamins and minerals, the brain will function to its full potential during the school day. With that said, school lunches must meet all requirements because as it lacks, so does the students’ brain function.
Although healthy lunches are usually not as appealing as frozen cheeseburgers and greasy pizza, they are beneficial overall. Most healthy lunches are not as good tasting and often the textures are usually off. This leads to an increase in food waste. When students realize it doesn’t taste as good as unhealthy packaged food, the high quality, and more expensive healthy food is wasted and thrown away. According to Christopher Wanjek, author of Food at Work and Bad Medicine, recent studies have shown that claims of food waste may be inflated. At a young age, many may not think about what they are supposed to eat versus what they aren’t. If they find something not tasting as good as an unhealthier version, they are pickier and more likely to throw it out, wasting a perfectly edible and healthy meal.
A solution we must consider should be making healthy options that are also appealing to students. Kids voted on healthy school lunches that are appealing in Fitchburg, Massachusetts. According to the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Department of Public Health, winning items added to the lunch menu include a banana split (banana cut length-wise and topped with cut fresh fruit), veggie kabob, whole wheat pita pizza, and yogurt parfaits. These items were chosen by the students and were added to the menu because they were appealing. Having students try which healthy items they prefer will lead to less food waste and healthier options. Allowing students to voice their opinions about new options ensures that the picky eaters and fast food lovers will choose these items as well. If we don’t fix this problem, the growth and development of our future generation, and learning, will be affected negatively.