Last Sunday in The Washington Post there was an excellent article about the school lunch program in Japan. Even more important than what is served, is the mindset that is cultivated early in childhood about the importance of eating nutritious food.
In Japan, school lunches are a matter of “national pride” and for good reason. Most meals are made from scratch, on site, and the menus and recipes are created by a nutritionist who not only writes the recipes, but changes them seasonally to incorporate fresh ingredients that are available.
Parents pay for these lunches and the cost of labor is funded by each town. Even though many towns have budget issues, they consider school lunch a “part of education” and a priority.
Japanese people live an average of 83 years, longer than any other population in the world. Japan’s childhood obesity rate has fallen for the last six years and is one of the lowest in the world.
www.japanlunch.wordpress.com/ shows daily menus and pictures with descriptions.
Meanwhile, in the United States, obesity rates have tripled over the past three decades and our children are being served food that lacks any real nutritional value because it is cooked, frozen and reheated and some of the ingredients are even questionable. “Pink Slime” for example, until recently, was considered safe by FDA standards, even though the beef was treated with ammonia. Chef Jamie Oliver explains this to kids and their parents.
And then there’s brominated vegetable oil, a flame retardant found in many popular drinks including Gatorade and Mountain Dew. BVO has been used by the soft drink industry since 1931, but as of January 2013 will be replaced by sucrose acetate isobutyrate, which is considered “generally recognized as safe” by the FDA. Even with this change, these drinks still contain unhealthy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup and aspartame.
Educating our children about the importance of making healthy choices daily needs to be a national priority in this country. School lunches are a great place to start because nutritious food should be available to all children. Friday, the Agriculture Department began implementing new rules for school nutrition. The rules are required under a child nutrition law passed by Congress in 2010 to combat childhood obesity.
However, simply limiting calories but still serving processed food is not the answer. Substituting sugary soft drinks with diet soda and sports drinks isn’t either.
“Seed to Table” programs teach kids how to grow their own healthy food and have been initiated in places like New Orleans after hurricane Katrina with great success. “Nourishing the Kids of Katrina” is a documentary that should inspire us to take action.