October 20, 2013

Editorial: Children need time to adjust

Kids who grow up on white bread, frequent fast-food meals and plentiful sweets are not going to be thrilled by school lunches featuring whole wheat bread, salads and fruit.

And that is the crux of a problem that has some schools dropping the $11 billion National School Lunch Program.

It’s not a mass exodus, by any means, but some schools around the country have opted out of the money-injecting federal program because, they say, kids weren’t eating the new foods that it requires cafeterias to serve.

Officials in one such district, in Catlin, Ill., told the Associated Press that they saw a 10 to 12 percent drop in lunch purchases, amounting to $30,000, last year. Closer to us, the Burnt Hills-Ballston Lake and Voorheesville school districts both reported losses. They say students complained about the healthier food choices and that fruit was being dumped without being touched.

The new U.S. Department of Agriculture guidelines come in reaction to the childhood-obesity epidemic in the United States and other health concerns. The comfort-food lunches that were served in school cafeterias for years — think meatloaf with gravy, buttered corn, white rolls and frosted cake, for example — were loaded with calories, sodium and starches.

You can’t blame the schools. That was what families were eating at home, it was what the government food programs supplied, and it could be produced in mass quantities at a reasonable cost.

But it wasn’t doing kids’ bodies, hearts and minds much good. We all know that a better nutrient balance, less sugar and sodium, reasonable portions and less processed food are what people should be consuming.

It is healthier for adults and, in a way, even more important for children because they are learning eating habits that will determine their longevity — and America’s future health-care costs.

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