Pizza, burgers, burritos, and fries — some of the unhealthy foods that are served in school lunches across America. They may sound like a treat but what is really hiding under the cheese and in between the buns? Is the amount of preservatives, sweeteners and processed food in school lunches the reason why American children are heavier than ever?

Despite some recent efforts to improve U.S. school lunhes, they are still loaded with unhealthy fat, salt and sugar, nutrition experts contend. Most schools in America use the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) to serve their lunches, which allows school food authorities to decide which foods to serve and how it will be prepared. Although the National School Lunch Program standards require that 1/3 of Recommended Daily Allowances (RDA) of nutrients and vitamins are met, this alone cannot ensure healthy eating habits. With the amounts of processed food and junk food given to students during lunch time and in vending machines, the nutrition in America’s schools is becoming a recipe for disaster. According to the U.S. News & World Report, unhealthy eating at school is contributing to the surge in obesity rates among American children. Obesity rates have quadrupled in children age 6 to 11 and more than tripled among adolescents age 12 to 19. Due to unhealthy eating and obesity, children have a higher risk for diabetes, high cholesterol, and cardiovascular disease. Middle school children who regularly eat school lunches are more likely to be overweight or obese, develop poorer eating habits and have high levels of “bad” cholesterol compared to those who bring lunches from home, according to Elizabeth Jackson, an M.D. at the University of Michigan Health System.

Parents may not have the time to make their children lunches, so they send them to school with money to buy their food. But parents are starting to ask questions about what their children are being served at lunch.

“I am not thrilled with the quality of food served at my daughter’s school,” said Sherry Nelson, the mother of a middle school student. “The lunch is all processed and does not have enough fresh food variety… the salad consists of only iceberg lettuce. There are no other vegetables or fruit to choose from.”

Sherry suggests when students are given lunch, they should be given dairy, fruits, and then the main dish.

“A lot of kids just eat the main starchy meal which lacks nutrition and does not give them all of the things they need.”

Children from ages seven to 18 should only be consuming about 2,000 calories a day. But a cheeseburger alone can carry well over 600 calories, and nearly 50 grams of carbohydrates.

Students are also concerned.

“I don’t understand why they try to promote health yet they serve unhealthy things that are not good for you,” said Holly Hudson, a junior at Glacier Peak High School.

Another student, Sacha Clow, a senior at Marysville Getchell High School, said, “I don’t think the food is healthy at all. They don’t have any fresh things. It is all frozen foods.” The administrator at this writer’s high school who is responsible for lunch services and orders, could not be reached for comment.

As a student, I believe that schools should serve healthy choices that will help students, not negatively affect their bodies. Food is our body’s fuel and healthy foods such as fruits, whole-grain bread, and low-fat dairy can help give students the nutrients they need to do better in school. Promoting a healthy diet at school can also help youth make better food choices in their daily lives which can lead to a healthier life.

Judith Murdock, principal of the Bio-med Academy at Marysville Getchell High School agrees.

“Having met with the food administrators, their goal is to make the food healthier and have more options at lunch and in the vending machines,” said Principal Murdock.

By offering and making better food choices, students can have the energy they need throughout the day to do well in school and be healthy.

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