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Fruits, Vegetables and M&Ms

And speaking of childhood obesity …

We all know it’s about diet and exercise whether you’re a kid or an adult who wants to be fit.  Fruit-and-vegetables  Last week I talked about exercise and how schools can improve opportunities in physical education and recess without spending a bundle.  Just a word today about schools and nutrition and why changing the current system may be harder than it looks.

Children consume nearly half their calories at school according to a 2009 report from the Institute of Medicine.  I have to admit that is more than I thought.  Part of Michelle Obama’s Let’s Move initiative is to take a look at what schools feed kids on a daily basis.

It’s not particularly easy to provide school lunches that are healthy and appealing based on the federal reimbursement rate augmented with government surplus foods.  Add to this problem the picky tastes of kids used to eating large quantities of salt, fat, and sugar found in fast food, and you can understand why some schools have given up and subcontracted to McDonald’s or Taco Bell.

I’m hopeful we’re past the era when school districts ironically traded kids’ fitness for athletic stadiums via “pouring rights” contracts with soft drink companies.  Still, the selling of junk food to kids in school in many districts has been driven by similar economics.  You can make a profit on junk food that may underwrite some of the losses of the general lunch fund.

Schools have a hard time controlling whether a kid spends his lunch money on soup and sandwich or on M&m  Snickers and Ho Ho’s.  Even at the elementary level, you can make a child buy the lunch, but you can’t make her eat it.

Computerized systems allow parents to decide how much money a child can spend on snacks, and that seems to help.  Schools can also decide what snacks to offer, and some are healthier than others.  In my opinion, no school should allow soft drinks, candy, or other high calorie snacks to be sold in vending machines even if the school does make a profit from it.

Increasing aid to school lunch funds might not only allow more healthy choices, but might also enable cafeteria managers to buy locally.  In addition it would encourage schools to quit selling junk food to our kids.  (And while we’re at it, they can stop selling candy and holding bake sales as fundraisers.)  

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Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in Practical Leadership are strictly those of the author and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Scholastic, Inc.