I know most of you are aware of the alarming rate of childhood obesity in our country, but did you know that no U.S. generation has raised children who are likely to have a shorter lifespan than their parents—until now? A recent study found that approximately 80 percent of children who were overweight at ages 10–15 were obese adults at age 25. And we know that obesity is linked to a variety of health problems, including heart disease, diabetes and even certain cancers—all major factors contributing to early death.
As a dietitian who works predominately with overweight and obese children, I know that a large culprit of this obesity epidemic is attributed to lack of activity, vending machines and poor lunch choices. For those children who can’t afford to bring lunch, or those whose parents aren’t willing or are too busy to make it, all they have left to eat is what the school provides—and it’s not healthy fare.
The Obama administration has taken light to this problem and is beginning a drive to expel Pepsi, French fries, and Snickers from the nation’s schools. Some are even proposing that vending machines remain in schools, but are re-filled with healthy choices. While this is a good start, it may pose a financial problem in schools that raise money for sporting events with money spent on candy and colas. So what’s the answer? I believe, at the very least, we need to begin teaching kids in schools how to make healthy choices—and then those choices need to be an option, if not the only option, in the lunchroom. Can we get an apple or banana among all the French fries, pizza and fish sticks, please?
So what makes up a healthy lunch?
Listen up, parents and school administrators: The key to a healthy school lunch is to limit the saturated fat and sugar (cookies and French fries are not every day foods! They are treats and should be eaten sparingly.) You want to incorporate some protein, complex carbohydrates and healthy fats. A small treat can also be included but this should be portion-controlled.
A good example of a healthy lunch is a turkey and low-fat cheese sandwich on whole wheat bread with 1 piece of fruit, 8 ounces of milk and 1 small cookie or 1 cup of popcorn (the snack is salty or sweet – not both). If your kids don’t like lunch meat, use spreads like hummus or peanut butter. And if they don’t like their protein on bread, substitute with whole wheat crackers or a whole grain cereal and yogurt (lunch can be breakfast foods too). If possible, avoid all sweetened beverages including juices, soda and sweet iced tea.
Remember, this epidemic affects everyone, as kids are the next generation of our country. Even if you’re not a mom yourself, do your part and spread the word about healthy eating. Our future depends on it.
Tanya Zuckerbrot, MS, RD is a best selling author and the creator of "The F-Factor Diet", an innovative nutritional program she has used for over a decade to provide thousands with the tools they need to achieve easy weight loss and maintenance, and improved health and well-being. In January 2011 Tanya launched the F-Factor food line with the largest natural foods company in the US, the Hain Celestial group. She is thrilled to be able to offer the highest fiber products on the market to date. Become a fan of Tanya on Facebook or follow her on Twitter.