Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The school lunch myth

If American public schools regarded the minds of students the same as many of them regard their tummies, parents would revolt and demand that principals and lunchroom supervisors be run out of town.

Yet, most parents have been passive accessories to the indifference of many schools that feed students low-nutrition, high-junk lunchroom fare based on a troubling myth—that without junk food, students would refuse to eat and school lunchrooms would go bust financially.

Well, well. That long-held and erroneous assumption is beginning to collapse under the weight of serious study.

In Minnesota, a team of economists that studied 330 school districts over five years recently concluded that schools serving healthier, more nutritious lunches did not see a loss of demand by students, while the higher cost of preparing and serving healthier meals was offset by the lower costs of fruits and vegetables.

An exemplar of that finding was St. Paul Public Schools, which serves 46,000 meals daily. The percentage of students lining up for school lunches increased when more fruits and vegetables were added.

Adolescent obesity is an acquired bad habit, indisputably aided by lunchroom junk food. Schools that create lunchtime menus with healthy foods can be a critical tool in reversing early eating habits that usually lead to adult lives of heart illnesses and diabetes and worse miseries.

Parents who demand that school lunchrooms serve life-enriching foods are showing the same level of concern for their children as their demand for schools to fill their children's heads with character-building curricula.

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