“In a typical week, elementary school menus include chicken tenders, cheeseburgers, and ‘Pizza Fridays,’ with sides of cheesy rotini, mozzarella sticks or French fries. A healthy meal can be hard for students to come by in a public school cafeteria, and is especially challenging for school systems to provide.” –WhatsForLunchNYC.com

WhatsForLunchNYC.com, an organization dedicated to changing New York City’s lunch system, understands that school lunches and the National School Lunch Program need to be changed. Quickly.

According to a recent study done by the Mayo Clinic, school aged children need, on average, approximately 1,200-2,000 calories per day, depending on age and gender.

In 2010, first lady Michelle Obama advocated in her “Let’s Move” initiative, for new school lunch regulations, which were passed by Congress later that year. In these regulations, the government set a maximum caloric limit for school lunches at 850 calories.

This new limit makes up nearly half of the recommended caloric intake for a school-aged child. So, before this limit was set, we can infer that school lunches exceeded 50 percent of a child’s daily caloric intake.

Many Americans have openly bashed Mrs. Obama for “starving” their children at lunch, asking why the caloric limit was needed. The proof is in the pudding, or cups of pudding, in the case of school lunches. When students are consuming over half of their daily recommended caloric intake, one can expect that they would rapidly gain weight. In fact, a study conducted by the New York Times proved that students who regularly ate the lunches provided by their schools were 29 percent more likely to be obese than students who did not.

Childhood obesity has popularly been blamed on watching television, playing video games, or playing on the computer. In the same study conducted by the New York Times, however, it was proven that “spending two or more hours a day watching television or playing video games increased the risk of obesity by only 19 percent.” That is 10 percent less of a chance that students will be obese by spending excess time on the couch than eating school lunches.

Before Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” initiative was put into action, 46 percent of vegetable servings consumed by children ages 2 to 19 were French fries. French fries.

So, if Americans are paying billions of dollars in taxes for public schools, why are the lunches so unhealthy? According to WhatsForLunchNYC.com , “With more than 860,000 meals to serve a day, the New York City public school system and the SchoolFood program struggle to provide more nutritious options on a budget of $2.43 per meal. Limited kitchen equipment makes it hard for short-handed cafeteria staff to cook meals from scratch. Instead, many of the meals are thawed and reheated.”

The National School Lunch Program was founded in 1946 during the presidency of Harry S. Truman. In this program, schools are given a stipend, or reimbursed for the money they spend on lunches for students. According to the United States Department of Agriculture, “Most of the support USDA provides to schools in the National School Lunch Program comes in the form of cash reimbursement for each meal served.”

Whether a student is making a habit of watching two or more hours of television a day, or eating lunch at their school, they are at an extreme risk for obesity. Schools should be a place where children are safe, but in fact, they are at a greater risk for obesity just by eating in the cafeteria.

If you or anyone else wants to help stop serving school-aged children unhealthy lunches, you can sign a petition to change the dietary guidelines for Americans here.

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