Monday, October 03, 2005

Naked Chef Goes to School

You may know him as the Naked Chef, but Jamie Oliver is fast becoming one of the prominent voices in children's nutrition circles after revamping the menus at 60 schools in London through a program he calls "Feed me Better."

As part of his campaign to reverse childhood obesity through proper nutrition, he filmed the process of overhauling the school menus and preparing 21,000 kid's meals daily to include in a show for broadcast in the UK. That television program prompted the British government to take action, committing more than $500 million to improve school lunch programs throughout the UK and also place a ban on junk food and vending machines in schools.
Oliver now has his sights set on the United States.

As he said in an ABC News interview, "England has the most unhealthy kids in Europe. America has some of the most unhealthy kids in the world with regards to obesity, Type-2 diabetes, and I just think it's a real shame," Oliver said. "What's I've seen and witnessed so far is shocking, scary."

The biggest problem Oliver sees with school lunch programs is that most of the served food is pre-packaged, processed and loaded with preservatives. In that ABC News interview for the segment "Person of the Week" (September 30) he said, "If you look at an ingredient — a product like a sausage or a burger — and you look at the ingredients, you should have four or five, but it's got 49 and you're like, 'Wow!' I realized that there were more standards in place for dog food than there were for our own kids, and that just sums it all up."

And so, Oliver is now campaigning in the United States to improve school lunches here. I watched the Person of the Week segment on Friday and was happy to see the types of foods he was cooking for the British school lunches - all looked to be low-glycemic load, heavy with non-starchy vegetables - what could be considered a nutritious "controlled carb" menu for kids, with all the ingredients being fresh, whole foods.

With more than 20% of our children already obese, we sorely need to improve the school lunch programs in the United States. A quick review of various school lunch menus available online shows how poorly we're feeding our children.

The school lunches served in the United States are littered with processed foods and even foods delivered from fast food vendors. They're heavy with starches and canned goods and low on fresh fruits and vegetables. There are more breaded or deep fried selections than lean selections. In an effort to indoctrinate children to low-fat, many schools have removed whole milk, natural cheese and good fats from their menus.

While hundreds of poor menu examples exist online, here is one shining example of a nutritionally bankrupt school lunch:

Boulder Valley Schools, October 4th:
Spaghetti with Sauce
Oatmeal Roll
Choice of Fruits and Veggies
Milk (1%, 2%, low-fat chocolate or strawberry)

Where exactly is the protein in this lunch?
What are the choices of fruits and vegetables?
Are the fruit/vegetable choices fresh, frozen or canned?
Are the vegetables starchy or non-starchy?
Is the pasta whole grain or enriched?
What is offered with the oatmeal roll - margarine or butter or some other "spread"?
Is the roll actually whole grain or not?
Why are they offering flavored milks that contain caffeine and artificial sweeteners?
Why is whole milk no longer being offered?

This menu is nothing more than CHEAP food that offers little nutrition for a growing child. It is high time our school lunch programs are over-hauled and if Jamie Oliver can bring to the national stage how poorly we're feeding our children, more power to him!

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