Back to School Nutrition

SellmaVllasi2There has been a lot of talk recently about school lunches and making them healthier.   With soaring rates of childhood obesity and related chronic diseases, many are finally seeing the obvious problem with what our schools have been serving up to our children:  we are killing our future.

Chronic diseases such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and high cholesterol previously only occurred in later adulthood after years of bad eating habits and lack of activity.  They are now occurring in children in alarming numbers but what is most concerning is that if nothing changes, the worst is still ahead.  And not very far ahead.

We know these diseases do not begin at the time they are diagnosed or a patient experiences any symptoms.  Diabetes, for example, begins many years before with a condition called insulin resistance.  This condition is caused by a high carbohydrate diet, which includes processed foods, fructose, grains, starchy vegetables, and sugary drinks.   I consider insulin resistance to be a red flag; a “DANGER” or “TURN BACK NOW” sign.  It means stop what you are doing NOW or you will end up with diabetes.  Soon.

No parent wants diabetes for his or her child.  If given a choice, parents would always choose health and happiness for their children.  The problem is that a parent trying to raise a healthy and happy child has to battle daily against misinformation, politics, the food industry, pharmaceutical industry, and other entities whose only motivation may not be the health and wellbeing of our children.

Unfortunately, our schools have joined in by using fast food methods of cutting food production costs and serving our children highly processed and sugary foods.  They may be cutting a few pennies, but the long-term costs will be astronomical.  When I look at the typical school breakfast and lunch menu, I have nightmares about students’ insulin levels and what that does to their brains while they are trying to learn.  A breakfast of cereal, milk, toast and 100% fruit juice is a recipe for diabetes, not a healthy start.  Items like juice and hot dogs should not appear on school lunch menus.  If we want our children to have optimal thinking power while they are in school as well as protect them from chronic diseases caused by an unhealthy diet we should provide whole, local, organic foods.

Although most school district officials may use the excuse that these kinds of foods are too expensive, there have been many organizations that have shown REAL healthy lunches are not only affordable, but also delicious and easy to prepare.  Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, The National Farm to School Network, The Center for Ecoliteracy, and Alice Waters’ School Lunch Initiative are some organizations who have taken on the cause of changing the school cafeteria.  Locally, Round Rock’s Studio Kitchen is attempting to provide healthier meals for local schools.

As parents, we must take a stand to protect our children from the grim unhealthy future.  One option is to prepare lunches for your children and not buy school lunches.  Another option is to become informed about the available resources and speak to your child’s principal and school district leadership and demand healthier lunches for ALL the children.  It may seem radical to some, but it is an investment into their health and future as well as our own.
This article was written by Sellma Vllasi, RN, FNP-C at Wiseman Family Practice.>