While a healthy diet is important for everyone, it is indispensable to a growing child. It is extremely disturbing that a large percentage of children now face nutrition-related health problems that were once confined to adulthood - namely, type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol levels, and high blood pressure. Diseases such as cancer, coronary artery disease, and osteoporosis can stem from the eating habits we form in childhood. Even ADHD can be affected by diet.
Since children and adolescents eat up to two meals and from one to three snacks during the school day, it is imperative that schools offer only healthy foods from which to choose. Not only do we guide students in establishing healthy eating habits that help prevent serious health problems, but we also improve behavioral and intellectual performance through increased attentiveness. With this comes better test scores and, as a consequence, higher self-esteem. It's important to note, too, that we send mixed signals if we teach the value of good eating habits through the curriculum while serving food that is far from what most nutritional scientists consider healthy. We must learn to walk the talk. The children expect it and deserve it.
Typically, foods found in schools are high in added sodium, sugar, and fat - but they don't have to be. Many schools around the country are improving school lunches and bringing healthy vending to their students. The school garden is gaining popularity as both a source of school food and an open-air classroom.
Remember: Children cannot attain their full potential unless they are well nourished and healthy. It is important that all food choices at school nurture student health and academic performance.
The following links will assist anyone who wants to take steps to improve the quality of foods served to children in schools.