Yes this is going to be a rant!
Yesterday I was alerted to the newly proposed changes, open for public comment, in the Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines - standards for school lunches (and breakfast) in my state. When I first opened the document, I was not surprised by the incremental reduction of dietary fat and the push for more fiber, especially with whole grains.
What did surprise me was the absolute lack of attention to nutrient-density at each category level. Oh, there is a minimum which applies to each category - the minimums established by the USDA that establish minimum calories, fat not to exceed 30%, acceptable levels of protein, cholesterol, sodium and fiber, along with target minimums for calcium, iron, and vitamins A and C.
So the committee drafting the newly proposed "expemplary" category didn't think it wise to perhaps set the bar higher - ya know, establish benchmark minimum for other micronutrients...maybe the same ones identified as deficient in our children in Missouri?
Hey, the starting document to consider this could be the Missouri Department of Health & Senior Services (DHSS) recently published Dietary Intake Summary Report for school year 2000-2001 - in it the DHSS reported finding the vast majority (greater than 50%) of all children in the state fail to meet RDA requirements for vitamin A, iron, calcium, folate and zinc, and 25% fail to meet requirements for protein, vitamin B6 and vitamin C.
We have a serious problem with malnutrition and the best the Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines committee can come up with is stricter limits on dietary fat and increasing fiber?
Has the committee that drafted this guideline even looked at what is being served in our schools?
Columbia public schools offer this delight each day:
Smucker's PBJ Uncrustable, Pepperidge Farms Goldfish Pretzels, Rice Krispie Treat, 1% cholocate milk, baby carrots and a fruit.
Can you imagine what would be said to a parent packing such a lunch for their child?
But guess what? That lunch conforms to the standards for low-fat with just 21g of dietary fat (24% of calories) - just ignore the fact that once protein is tallied, carbohydrate accounts for 508 of the 789 calories - that's 127g of carbohydrate, or the equivalent of 32-teaspoons of sugar in a child's metabolism in one meal!
But hey, it provides 6g of fiber - above the target 5g standard, right?
The public schools have the audacity to call that abomination a nutritious lunch?
Oh, and don't get me started on the soy-based products being used in meals and that fact not being disclosed to parents, unless of course, they poke around to read the allergen lists.
Beef Tacos on the menu?
I'd expect they're made with beef, wouldn't you? Nope...they're based on an "enriched" product schools purchase - made with some beef and an ingredient listed as "VPP" - vegetable protein product - better known as soy protein.
Chicken Nuggets on the menu?
I'd expect they're breaded chicken pieces, wouldn't you? Nope...they're also based on an "enriched" product schools purchase, already prepared - made with some chicken and an ingredient listed as ISP - isolated soya protein.
Think it can't get worse?
I don't think schools do much more than open a can, heat and serve these days - just reading through the spreadsheets available online makes that pretty clear - almost everything sold in school breakfast and lunches are convenience foods, from various vendors, that are nutritionally bankrupt, but easy to heat and serve.
If a parent were to habitually feed their child that crap, at the very least they'd be chastized as irresponsible - yet this is how the schools operate each day, serving what can only be called food-garbage each day and they have audacity to label them "healthful" and nutritious.
When you have a chance, read through the proposed Missouri Eat Smart Guidelines, then let the committee know what you think in the open public comments!
If people don't start speaking up, and demanding truly nutrient-dense meals for their children, it's only going to get worse!