Flunking Lunch: Why American Schools Don’t Make the Grade

School lunches seem like a great bargain. For under $3, your child is supposed to receive a nutritious meal that covers all the basic food groups.

But before you send your kid off with a fistful of dollar bills, there's something you should know.

I've surveyed school lunches across the country and the results are pretty similar in most public schools. Let's take a look at a typical American family. For lunch in a single day, their first grader consumed 1 serving of pizza, 1 serving of fruit, 1 serving of chocolate milk, 1 cheese stick, and a small bag of cookies. Sounds pretty typical, right?

According to the school's website, that’s 705 calories.

To put it in perspective, for a child of his age and activity level, that’s approximately HALF of an entire day’s worth of calories.

In one meal.

If that doesn’t rock your world, consider the nutritional train wreck of said lunch. If the 25 grams of fat doesn’t alarm you, how about the 56 grams of sugar? The chocolate milk alone is nearly twice the daily recommended amount of added sugars for a child that age.

And if that's not the worst of it, we're sending him (and his classmates) back into the classroom all jacked up on refined carbs and sugar and expecting them to concentrate.

Perhaps all this still doesn’t sway you. Perhaps you believe school lunches aren’t all that bad.

Well, let’s compare this school lunch to one of the most despised of children’s dietary options, The Happy Meal. For approximately the same $3, a hamburger Happy Meal with apple slices and juice (because remember, the parent can actually choose what goes into the Happy Meal) is 340 calories, 8 grams of fat, and 29 grams of sugar.

Probably not what you expected.

Don't get me wrong- I’m not advocating sending our kids off to school with Happy Meals. But why is roughly the same junk (or worse) on the menu in our schools?

And what about those kids who have no other choice?

I think it's time we realized that academic performance, the health of our nation’s youth, and school lunches all go hand in hand.

Fear not! There are a few easy things you can do to get the ball rolling. Would you consider at least one of these today?

1.       Educating others. Share this post with friends and neighbors and help expose the truth about school lunches.

2.       Packing your own lunches. If you can, plan to bring lunch more days than you buy it. Oh My Nosh! is committed to developing resources to guide you in this process (subscribe and/or like us on Facebook to stay in touch). In the meantime, check out www.pinterest.com/ohmynoshnet for suggestions on what to pack.

3.       Teaching your kids about good food choices. You may not be able to stand in the lunch line and fill their tray but you can teach them to make good choices. It may help to talk about "once in a while" foods vs. "all you can eat" foods.

4.       Seeking change. Talk to your school leadership about eliminating items with added sugars, posting nutrition facts for parents, and offering more nutritious entrees (soup/salad/sandwich anyone?). Don't go it alone- many hands make light work!

What do you think? Where do you feel you can make the greatest impact when it comes to school lunches? Leave a comment and let's get people talking!