Image: Granville School District

When it comes to reforming school lunches in America, organizations like the National Farm to School Network and Shape Up America! are making all the right moves. These organizations and many others that are a part of the National Alliance for Nutrition & Activity are working towards increasing students’ access to healthy, nutritious meals, improving nutrition education programs, supporting physical fitness programs, and encouraging active lifestyles.

But without a strategy and effective policies to carry out these programs, the hard work by these groups won’t stretch as far as it truly can. We need to make sure that their hard work pays off and produces long-lasting results.

The Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act passed into law in 2010 was a major step toward improving child nutrition in schools. It has provided funding for child nutrition programs, helped feed hungry kids through funding of free school lunch programs, and has established nutrition standards for school lunches. Schools are now seeing healthier alternatives such as whole wheat, veggies, fruits, and low-fat milk and yogurt. But while more nutritious foods are brought into the lunchroom, in recent news many people are complaining that the new school lunches are leaving kids hungry.

Not only have there been complaints of meal portions shrinking, but complaints about the calorie limits the Healthy Hunger-Free Kids Act has put on school lunches. Putting a cap on calories? I’m not a huge fan. School lunches should be filling and nutritious and the calories limits do not accommodate everyone–some children need more to perform their best academically and others need less.

Setting calorie limits could have a back-lash. If kids are still hungry they will be more likely to reach for snacks they bring to school from home, ones that may not be the healthiest choices. If I had a say, I would propose that we give kids access to healthy foods but let them select their own food and portions sizes. Wouldn’t that reflect a more real life scenario? Along with improvements in nutrition education perhaps we can help children switch to healthier diets.

While organizations are doing what they can to raise awareness about proper nutrition and supporting physical fitness programs, we need our school lunch programs to be as effective as they can be by ensuring the basics: that kids are getting enough healthy, nutritious food to power their minds and body for the long school day.