Since 1981, the value of foods served to children in the American public schools has been a raised a political, social and philosophical debate. Since President Reagan’s decision to include ketchup in the ‘vegetable’ category as a way of saving money in school lunch programs in 1981, the debate has increased significantly. The congress has attempted several times to enact laws that provide quality and healthy foods to school-going children. Currently, the debate revolves around the type of food to be included or excluded in the ‘vegetable’ category, the need to include whole grains and how to cope with the rising incidence of childhood obesity.
The Health Hungry-Free Kids Act that has recently been implemented to cater for health needs of more than 35 million children has created a national controversy (Taub-Dix 1). The restriction on calories and the creation of healthier food choices are two important but controversial aspects of the Act. In an attempt to cut down on calories and reduce the prevalence of obesity, the Act now requires children to have meals that include chef salads, lentil cutlets, whole grain spaghetti, fresh cantaloupe wedges, whole grains, steamed broccoli and a wide range of fresh vegetables. In addition, it attempts to exclude canned fruit and dried tater tots as an attempt to reduce junk foods in the programs. However, although this is likely to reduce the incidence of obesity among young people in the U.S., it may equally affect the health of many children, especially those who do not like the new diet because they are likely to skip meals (Taub-Dix 1).
The program creates availability of a wide range of healthy foods in schools, which is likely to cope with the rising prevalence of obesity and other related diseases in the U.S. For example, canned and high calorie foods are generally ‘junk’ products. Health experts have increasingly argued that they cause obesity and related diseases. Achieving the standards for protein, vitamins and other nutrients established by USDA should be the main aim when developing guidelines on the right meals for the children. The new school lunch program and the ‘Let’s Move’ initiative by first lady Michelle Obama have the potential to reduce cases of childhood obesity. The most important objective for these initiatives is to protect the children’s health. In fact, reduction of high calorie foods is more likely to force children take better products, especially those who come from families that do not mind the degree of health in foods they take. It is likely that some students will find the foods better and make their parents include at least some of them in homemade meals. The results will be a significant reduction in cases of child and youth obesity, diabetes and other diseases.
On the other hand, forcing the children to take certain foods does not mean that they will take them or improve their health. Students who find such meals not fitting their tastes and preferences are likely to skip lunch, which means that they will spend their days hungry. This also means that their health will be affected rather than improved.
Concerning the type of food served to the children in our schools, it is important to note that the health aspect of the meals is the most critical issue. Exposing children to junk foods will do more harm than good, even though they tend to like such foods. The argument that some children are likely to go hungry because they do not like the new eating program is not enough to enforce the inclusion of junk foods in the school lunchbox. Therefore, the new program seems to be the best for the more than 30 million school-going children in the U.S.