Pupils carrying trays in school canteen

Source: Westend61 / Getty


With school back in session, let’s talk school lunches. When we look back at cafeteria food, we may actually have good memories!!! Little square pieces of pizza, graham crackers, chocolate milk, cheeseburgers (let’s be honest, there probably wasn’t any meat or cheese in whatever they gave us!) granted, cafeteria food has seemingly improved since we were kids, but is it healthier?

Vending machines and fast food menus have now become quite popular in schools. This is a way for the school to get funding, but it also offers horrible choices for food, drinks and snacks.

If you look at the history of school lunches and how they even came to be, it’s pretty interesting. Congress instituted the school lunch program shortly after World War II in an attempt to bolster child nutrition, prevent poor health among children and enlarge the market for surplus food supplies. The reasoning was that Congress had become aware that numerous recruits had failed their physical examinations as a result of poor diet. In 1946, federal subsidies, in addition to matching state funds, made it possible for all children to have a healthy lunch at minimal costs. The focus was on physical stamina and health, with a little attention paid to the relationship between learning and nutrition.

Fast forward to the 80s. By this time, school lunches had become a big business with jobs that needed to be maintained and supplied funding for schools. Of course money had to be a culprit! As years went by, low income children were only a fraction of those using the program. In the 90s, the research showed that middle to upper income children were participating in the school program more and more. Because of this, more flexibility was given to schools to choose any approach to get more kids to pay for school lunches. This flexibility allowed schools to comply with dietary guidelines ONLY on the federally subsidized portion of the meals, while the revenue generating à la carte items did not have to comply. This opened the door to fast food companies in certain machines being allowed in schools. Visit any college campus today and you’ll see coffee, doughnut and fast food chains ON campus.

Former First Lady, Michelle Obama started a healthy food law in 2010 called Hunger-Free Kids Act. Former President Obama signed the law to improve diets for students. She also started the Let’s Move campaign to encourage kids to do physical activity for 60 minutes per day. Former President Trump changed much of the guidelines surrounding Michelle Obama’s plan due to complaints of cost.

It is important to remember that inadequate food intake limits children’s ability to learn. Chronically under -nourished children must use their energy for basic function in order of most importance. First comes maintenance of critical organ function, second would be growth and third is social interaction and cognitive function. Most kids today are spending all of their energy on just maintaining function with little leftover for learning.

As discussed before, of course fast food is easier and a school lunch program is easier, but it’s clearly not the best choice. Remember, you can control what is in your child’s lunch just as much as you can control what is in your lunch. YOU do the grocery shopping. YOU do the preparation. The numbers of obese children is appalling especially knowing that the parents have control over their consumption. Why would you send them off with sugary, processed foods filled with food coloring and chemicals? (also, say no to Lunchables, blech). Obesity and ADD are off the charts with today’s children. This is an easy fix moms and dads!!!

This discussion of children’s health will no doubt be the main topic of next week’s blog.