School Lunches: Think Twice

//School Lunches: Think Twice

When it comes to our kids diet, there are oftentimes things that we want to stick our fingers in our ears and say, “Lalalala I can’t hear you!”  If we don’t hear the truth, then we aren’t responsible for it, right?  Well, this may be one of those “Lalalala” moments. But the real truth is, you can’t afford NOT to hear it…or better yet, your KIDS can’t afford not to have you hear it!  So be brave, take your fingers out, and give it a read. You might learn some interesting facts along the way!

The below article is by Dr. Josh Axe, a chiropractor in Nashville, TN.  This was taken from his website.


Do you eat on the run? Have a drive-thru habit? Grab a daily snack from the vending machine? We’ve heard repeatedly how important breakfast is, but lagging lunches are certainly an overlooked health danger in these times. What about your kids?

Some of the worst meals around are school lunches and those from vending machines. We take it for granted that our kids are getting a square meal when we send them school to eat meals established by government guidelines, but our trust is ill-placed.

Consider some of these statistics:

  • Most schools use nutritional guidelines that haven’t been updated since the 1970’s.
  • An average cafeteria meal contains 31 grams of fat.
  • “Fruit-on-the-bottom” yogurt gives your child 30 grams of sugar, not to mention the negatives associated with pasteurized dairy.
  • 80% of the foods offered in vending machines are candy, chips and pastries.
  • Most granola bars have 15 grams of added sugar.
  • 75% of the drinks in school vending machines are made with artificial juice, high fructose corn syrup and sugar.
  • 75% of high schools and 65% of middle schools have exclusive soft drink contracts.
  • “Natural” Capri Sun Pacific Coolers have 100 calories and 26 grams of sugar.
  • Ketchup and salsa count as vegetable requirements in schools.
  • The USDA reimbursement to schools covers only one vegetable per meal.
  • 2002 data showed that 70% of schools met the nutritional guidelines for some nutrients, 6 to 7% of meals met all the guidelines and 42% of schools offered no fruits or vegetables for lunch.
  • As of 2007, less than 20% of our nation’s schools met dietary guidelines.

Even if your school assures you that the lunches are healthy; that doesn’t mean your child eats them! They can get a bagel and a yogurt instead, a substitute loaded with processed flour, calories, fat, sugar and pasteurized dairy.

Because schools have so many kids to feed, the food is often prepared hours ahead of time. Preservative-laden food holds up much better under these conditions than fresh. And after lining up in their classrooms, lining up at the cafeteria entrance and lining up to be served and cash out; kids are often left with as little as 10-15 minutes to eat, socialize and empty their place of trash—and line up again.

The National School Lunch Program is inextricably entwined with government-subsidized foods and food service lobbyists.

So what’s subsidized? Corn, soy and wheat of course. Highly processed and refined. Orange cheese, processed chicken…schools get a break on these commodities. Industrial lobbyists end up determining what is subsidized.

The commodity processing system allows schools to divert the subsidized food to food processing companies. They turn it into heat-and-serve, unhealthy foods for the schools. The companies get cheap chicken for their nuggets and our kids get gypped. Schools divert about half of their government surplus this way.

Schools also make money from contracts with fast food suppliers, food preparers and purveyors, and vending machine companies. The lowest bid wins. 80% of a school’s food budget goes to outside vendors who provide ready-made meals three-quarters of the time. Vending machine foods are not regulated by any nutritional guidelines.

Nutritional guidelines? Those for schools don’t even match the USDA posted daily requirements for all of us. Schools are required to provide foods that fulfill a minimum nutrient level over the course of a week. There is no maximum limit. Foods high in calories, preservatives and sodium are no-holds-barred.

In 1994, a School Meals Initiative for Healthy Children was passed that required schools to conform to US dietary guidelines by 1996. Many schools were given a 2-year waiver. In 1996? Nothing happened because no enforcements were built into the initiative.

In 2004, another law was passed. This one mandated that schools create health and wellness policies. Some did, but no committee was established to enforce their implementation.

One amazing study found that when healthy foods were substituted for unhealthy options; kids chose the good over the bad and the swap did not reduce sales.

Another “field study” was conducted by Vice Principal Bryan Bass in Minneapolis. The school district wanted to keep their profitable vending machine contract with Coca-Cola no matter the negative effects on their kids.

Bass kept the contract but he stocked 12 of the 16 machines with water only for 75 cents a bottle; 3 machines carried $1 juices and sports drinks; 1 machine carried $1.25 cans of soda. Bass also banned juice and soda from classrooms.

The school’s profits from the machines nearly tripled in two years. “Water,” Bass says, “has become ‘cool’.”

Eat This, Not That! authors David Zinczenko and Matt Goulding say that only 2% of our kids are getting their daily food requirements and that the USDA recommendations lack qualifiers.

For instance, they point out that “a serving of white rice and quinoa both count toward the daily recommended six servings [of grains], despite the fact that one is packed with fiber, healthy fat and essential amino acids (quinoa) and the other is a nutritional black hole (white rice) and one-quarter of all vegetables consumed by kids are French fries.”

Brain work requires brain food. You’ll save money and teach your kids healthy eating habits by packing them lunch. Be patient and perseverant. And remember that ‘dessert is a treat, not a staple.’

Dr. Axe’s Action Steps

  1. Plan your next trip to the grocery store with brown bag lunches in mind. Choose whole foods over packaged foods.
  2. Avoid artificial food coloring and preservatives in foods, as they are linked to ADD/ADHD, hyperactivity and reduced cognition.
  3. Look for nitrite and nitrate-free cold cuts at the deli counter.
  4. I would recommend staying away from the vast majority of grains in general, but if you are going to make your child a sandwich, opt for a sprouted grain bread like Ezekiel bread.
  5. Read the labels on everything, but especially fruit drinks. Even organic juice boxes can have tons of sugar and additives. Water is your child’s best option.
  6. Be creative. We eat with our eyes first. Make food fun by including lots of colorful veggies (like carrots, celery and bell pepper sticks) with hummus or guacomole and packing a wide variety of nuts, seeds and dried fruit.



  • Thanks for writing this article! It’s an eye opener. I do send my kids to school with a home packed lunch because I know how unhealthy their options are at school.
    However after reading your article, I realized that some of the foods I am packing them aren’t that great either!!!!!!!!!
    Can you give any advice on what to pack for their lunches everyday?
    Currently I make them a ham and cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread, pretzel sticks, a fruit, Capri Sun – the water flavored ones, and sometimes a granola bar or homemade cookie for dessert.
    You mentioned staying away from grains altogether – can you please give some more ideas? or point me in the right direction?
    thanks so much!
    **PS what can we do to make changes in the school system?

    Jennae 03.02.2010
    • Hey there! Thank you for your reply! Well, I think you are taking a very good first step. I am going to be posting a blog soon on kids food ideas, but for starters, I think the biggest thing to watch is the sugar content. There is so much hidden sugars in foods that we don’t even realize. The average child in America consumes 53 tsp. of sugar per day! That’s unbelievable! It’s hidden in those squeezy yogurts, applesauce, fruit roll ups, drinks, lunch meat, etc. If you begin to identify what sugars to avoid you can still get some of the same stuff, just minus all the added sugars! High fructose corn syrup is one to really avoid and that is in most juices, unless it says 100% juice. It is used as a preservative for foods and they are now adding mercury, the most toxic substance on the planet, into HFCS to help the preserving factors. Yikes! Get natural applesauce, fruit like clementines (so easy to peel and no seeds!), apples (sliced and peeled for ease), boxes of raisins, etc. There is no way to eat perfectly when it comes to kids and needing to pack lunches, but if you can eliminate a lot of the added sugars, then getting the naturally occurring sugars from wheat and grains is not as bad! Our rule is try to eat as much “God food” (straight from nature) as possible vs. “Man Food” (processed, preservatives, etc.). It’s not easy and some days we fail miserable, but b/c we are trying to eliminate where we can, those “bad” days don’t do too much harm! 🙂 Keep going! You are on the right track! We have a children’s health and nutrition webinar this coming Tues. 9th. If you would like to listen in, click the link on the front page and it will take you to the registration!

  • I’ve studied school lunches and although sales may not go down with the swap out to good foods, waste does. A lot of it goes in the trash because the kids aren’t taught healthy habits at home. When Reagan made ketchup a vegetable to meet funding requirements, this was studied heavily. The school were bending over backwards to provide the vegetable but the kids were throwing it away. As a way to cut costs, they made the change.

    Kerry Lopez 03.02.2010

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