Ninety-five percent of bread products available at public school cafeterias across the country are of the refined “white flour” variety, offering negligible amounts of fiber and fewer nutrients than whole grain types.
(Source: 2004 – 2005 United States Department of Agriculture School Nutrition Dietary Assessment Study)
This pitiful statistic goes back to issues surrounding federal national lunch guidelines and agricultural subsidies.
According to figures from the School Nutrition Association, school cafeterias receive $2.65 dollars, per student, from the government, for a complete lunch. Mind you, this amount includes expenses like cafeteria workers’ salaries.
Whole grain options (the few that are available from vendors) cost five or ten additional cents per student, so you can understand why schools are not exactly itching to get more of these healthy foods into their lunch rooms.
I firmly believe the government needs to provide incentives for schools to serve as many grains as possible in their whole, more nutritious form.
A few school districts currently require a certain amount of whole grains on the menu, but that is a completely voluntary move.
Of course, this requirement should be met in the simplest of terms (ie: whole grain tortillas and sliced bread to make wraps and sandwiches, whole grain dinner rolls to accompany entrees, lightly-salted air-popped popcorn as a snack, etc.) as opposed to a sodium-loaded slice of pizza with processed cheese on a semi whole-wheat crust.
Allow me to clarify — the occasional refined grain product is no cause for concern. A diet does not need to be 100% whole grain to be healthy.
However, in a country where children, on average, get only half of their daily fiber recommendations, it is necessary to examine how improvements can be made.
The guarantee of a 100% whole grain lunch at school is a significant start.
PS: The New York Coalition for Healthy School Lunch has made tremendous strides in several of that city’s public schools. Check out their website for more information, particularly the “creating change in your school” page.