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Mystery Meat and Food Additives? Behind Schools’ Unhealthy Lunches

Written by Alexandra Fuhs

Hi everyone! Welcome to the first article in our Healthy Living series where we discuss different aspects of healthy eating. In this article by Alexandra Fuhs, learn about school lunches, and how healthy they truly are.

School lunches are important for academic performance and the overall health of students. As 11 million American children live in households facing food insecurity, a school lunch may be their only reliable meal, making it all the more important that these lunches are an adequate source of nutrition. However, despite the government’s various lunch regulations aimed to improve meal nutrition, school lunches may not be as healthy as they should be, and this can seriously harm students.

Lunch standards

In 2012, the U.S. government updated the school meal standards in an effort to promote healthy eating. These new guidelines included a mandatory increase in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains offered at schools along with a reduction in sodium.

Skirting the regulations

Despite the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s recommendations for school lunches, many school districts do not follow them. According to the New York Times, fruit and vegetable juices are used as a substitute for real fruits and veggies, potato farmers have successfully lobbied against a reduction of the number of white potatoes served in schools, and sugar is added to dried fruits for palatability purposes. To ensure the food lasts, food suppliers use processed meats, artificial coloring and flavors, and various preservatives — all of which have been shown to be harmful to our health.

In California, a routine lunch analysis raised red flags when the seemingly typical food options — nuggets, burgers, and a salad bar — contained a high amount of fat and sodium as well as low fiber. Though federal regulations limited fat to 30% of lunch calories, these students were receiving 51% of their lunch calories from fat. Further analysis determined that 60% of California school lunches failed to meet at least one federal nutrition requirement. While this may seem shocking, it’s not exclusive to the Golden State. Across the country, students who eat a school lunch are twice as likely to have two or fewer servings of fruit in a day, and four out of five schools don’t meet the current USDA fat concentration standards for their cafeteria lunches.

Effects on students

School lunches with poor nutritional value have a myriad of harmful effects on students. Long-term effects include issues like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, as well as stunted physical development. These lunches are also linked to poor behavior, discipline problems, and low energy levels. On the contrary, nutritious lunches leave students less susceptible to illness, improve cognition and concentration, and improve academic performance, particularly on tests.

Thanks for reading the first article in our Healthy Living series! We hope you learned about the truth behind school lunches, and the various aspects of healthcare they are lacking in.

If you enjoyed reading this article, check out our article on Pet Allergies, by Alyssa Morrison.

Until next time,

Alexandra and the Writing Committee :)

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