Mississippi Teacher Corps

Sunday, July 02, 2006

Focus paper reflection: school nutrition

As they say, better late than never... I read Lily's focus paper on nutrition in schools. I'm particularly interested in this issue because I ultimately want to get involved in public health. I'm also a bit of a health nut, and I've been thinking a lot about nutritional concerns when I look around the summer school cafeteria every day. Lily's paper explains that school breakfast and lunch programs were started to address the nutritional needs of students, but legislation was not ammended until 2002 to require that school lunches meet the Dietary Guidelines for Americans.
Lily begins by talking about obesity, and mentions later in her paper that students have unhealthy alternatives, including vending machine products, to school lunches. She said that a recent bill that has not yet been approved calls for restricting vending machine contents to healthier items. I'm not sure what the current state of this bill is, but I think it sounds like a great idea. This past month, I noticed that many of my students at Holly Springs Summer School were overweight and appeared unhealthy, and I wonder how much of that would change if students were unable to access junk food from the vending machines in schools.
Over the past month, I've been eating the same breakfasts and lunches at summer school as my students (and no, I am not talking about "eating lunch" in the Jon Zarondona sense of that phrase = ) ), and have thus thought a lot about school food issues. I think that it's really important that the schools in the Delta offer free breakfast and lunch to many, if not all, of their students, but I wonder if this is enough. One of my concerns in eating at summer school was just the number of calories in each meal. I found myself always having to supplement the school meals with additional breakfast and lunch food. Granted, I'm more physically active than many of the students, but many of them are growing, and I remember how much I needed to eat all the time when I was in high school. One day, some of my students complained to me that they were all hungry because the school breakfast had been smaller than usual that day (point taken). I have to wonder if they're even getting enough food. Another concern of mine is how healthy the food is; Lily's paper stated that school feeding programs are supposed to ensure that foods from each of the five food groups are presented at each meal, but do an apple at breakfast and some lettuce and tomatoes on a burger at lunch really constitute an adequate daily dose of fruits and veggies?
Most of this is speculative, since poor nutrition and obesity are huge issues that I am not deluded enough to think that I can take by the horns (or at least, not any time soon). But, being a practically minded person, I started to think about what I could actually do about these problems. Lily mentioned that teachers can help by teaching their kids good nutritional practices. As a science teacher, I hope that I have this opportunity. I remember having health education in middle school where we had to learn all kinds of things about nutrition, and ultimately record everything we ate over a period of three days. At the time, I thought it was kind of a dumb activity in the way that I thought that most things we did in middle school health were kind of dumb, but I can appreciate now how much I learned from all that. However, I'm not sure how good an idea it would be to have my students do the "record all you eat" thing. I'm aware that some of my students won't have the means to eat enough quality food, and I don't want to humiliate anyone by bringing up a sensitive subject.
I might be coaching track at my middle school next spring, or, more accurately, attempting to start up a track team with my event-limited knowledge. My school district currently doesn't have a track team at the middle school or high school, but the athletic director was more interested in having me start a team at the middle school. He said that it would keep the kids out of trouble by giving them something to focus on, and would get them physically active, and his hope was that they'd already be into track by the time they hit high school, and I'm right with him on all of these points. But you just can't do intense athletic activities without eating right, and how many of my students will be properly fed enough to have the energy to go out and run, or jump, or throw, at the end of the school day?


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