According to registered dietitian Dayle Hayes, the number one problem for children in America is undernourishment. Even though 17% of American children are obese and the obesity rate for children and adolescents has tripled in a single generation, the number of teens and children are not receiving enough nutrients. About 70% of teen boys and 90% of teen girls aren’t receiving the adequate amount of calcium. Children, and especially teens, are also deficient in vitamins A, C, D and E as well as potassium, dietary fiber, magnesium and phosphorus, Hayes says.
Some schools serve unhealthy foods, parents aren’t always taking responsibility of what their children are consuming, fast food restaurants don’t offer too many healthy options, and the media promotes unhealthy eating behaviors.
According to Hayes, more school districts are moving back to scratch cooking. They’re using locally grown food and preparing more of the meals themselves as opposed to serving processed foods that contain more sugar and fat. Districts that have their own nutrition program — such as Vancouver Public Schools — and those that contract with companies such as Sodexo and Chartwells for meal service — such as the Battle Ground, Camas and Evergreen districts — can have quality programs that offer healthy, nutritious meals to kids, Hayes said. She also suggests that serving breakfast in the classroom, for example, helps kids get more nutrients. A bowl of whole-grain cereal, fruit and milk contain many of the essential nutrients kids aren’t getting enough of.
Beginning this fall, three Evergreen elementary schools will provide all children breakfast in the classroom at no cost. Crestline, Silver Star and Burton were selected for the program because of their high numbers of children qualifying for free and reduced meals, said Karen Steinhardt, the district’s food services manager.
Districts need to scrutinize the entire environment of their schools, from vending machine products to alternatives offered in the cafeterias. And schools need to provide kids, especially younger students, with enough time to eat their lunches, Hayes said.