Parents Perspective

The Cafeteria Crisis: How to Make Fruits and Vegetables More Appealing

kids eating lunch
A recent Atlantic article reported that most kids in Los Angeles' school system are not eating healthy lunches. On any given day, less than half of students took a vegetable from the school cafeteria's lunch line and ate it. I'm not shocked by this statistic, but I wish the number of kids eating veggies were higher. Processed foods, which dominate many students' diets, don't have the nutrients they need to be healthy. Schools seem to care more about what the students want to eat than what's best for them.  The L.A. school district has been and continues to adjust their cafeterias' menu to fit what kids want to eat, moving away from their old healthy foods initiative. In the newest rendition of the school district's menu, hamburgers are offered every day. Some might argue that kids, especially older kids, should know how to tell what's healthy and what's not and make the right decisions for themselves. If they want to eat junk food every day, that is their choice and we shouldn't interfere. However, I think that the current system impairs kids' ability to make the right food choices, and we should work to improve the situation. There are two changes that I believe would change the way that students eat their lunches:

  1. Make lunch periods longer. Many schools have inadequate lunch breaks. In order to encourage kids to eat salads instead of junk food, we need to give them the time to do so without feeling rushed. According to a 2013 poll by NPR, the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the Harvard School of Public Health, 20 percent of students from kindergarten to fifth grade get only 15 minutes (or less!) for lunch. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that students get 20 minutes to sit down and eat their lunches, which doesn't include the time it takes to walk to the cafeteria and wait in line for food.
  1. Add a nutrition section to home economics, health, or science class. Nearly all schools claim to have nutrition education, but at what age do students learn about nutrition — and to what extent do students learn beyond the food pyramid? I didn't learn about nutrition until I was a sophomore in high school, and I don't remember anything about the class except that we wrote in a food diary. The nutrition class should be a hands-on experience that helps students make informed food choices. Teachers should take their students to the cafeteria and teach them how to choose balanced meals in addition to lecturing in the classroom.

I hope that the Los Angeles school district reverts back to its old, healthier menu, and that other school districts follow in its footsteps. The cafeteria menu shouldn't change; students' attitudes should change, and we need to help make that happen. One out of every 3 kids is considered overweight or obese in the United States. Let's work to reduce those numbers— starting with the way kids eat lunch.

Print out healthy on-the-go breakfast recipes and shop kids' lunch boxes.

Image via Shutterstock.